A British expat couple are facing an NHS bill of £40,000 after their baby was born prematurely while on a trip home to England.
Paul Barnes, 33, moved to Zambia a decade ago and was joined by his fiancee Sophie Henley, 25, in 2014.
Every year they travel home to the UK to spend Christmas with their family and friends.
It was during a trip home that things took an unexpected turn and baby Archie was born seven weeks early in January.
Archie weighed just 3lbs and has been kept in an intensive care incubator since January 23 suffering from breathing problems.
However the couple have been told they will have to pay for the bill.
As of February 22 this stands at £40,000, and they have been told they have to pay a 150 per cent tariff as they are not from the European Economic Area.
They fear it could rise to £60,000 before Archie leaves specialist care at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
The pair are both British citizens – and have paid years of tax and NI contributions – but because they are no longer residents, they don’t qualify for free NHS treatment.
Mr Barnes, who will have to leave his family and return to Zambia to work in the coming weeks, said: ‘I’m 100% British. I would never ever renounce my British passport for anything.
‘I feel, and always have felt, British. I was born here and of course so was Archie. We might be residents of Zambia for now, but he isn’t.
‘We paid tax and National Insurance while we worked here, and our families have done so and still do so.
‘I feel many things at the moment. I hate having to ask people for money. It’s nothing I have ever done before.
‘I feel nervous about my son’s health. I feel that more than anything. I’m worried about the money too. It’s very hard.’
Mr Barnes met Miss Henley when she travelled to Zambia for work and she moved to Africa to join him in 2014.
They flew back to the UK to see family for the safari ‘low season’ on December 15, planning to return on February 5 in time for Archie’s due date on March 13.
But when Miss Henley, who runs a lodge in Zambia, noticed reduced movements she went to Barnstaple Hospital where she was given an emergency C-section on January 23.
The couple knew they would not be entitled to free NHS care, and planned a natural birth in Zambia.
They said they were not able to get insurance for Sophie prior to travel, as she was already expecting.
The birth cost around £5,900 – now owed to Barnstaple Hospital – but Archie needed NICU and high dependency care, costing up to £1,300 a day.
As of February 22, they owed a further £33,700 to Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, but Mr Barnes fears the total bill will be around £60,000.
The bill rises with every day he spends in hospital, and he is not expected to leave until he has reached his due date.
He is also back in the high dependency unit currently with prematurity-related heart problems.
‘It’s been a tough time,’ said Mr Barnes. ‘Having a premature baby is difficult anyway.
‘We simply don’t have the capacity to pay it all now. I don’t know what happens if we don’t pay it – different people are saying different things.
‘But we have been speaking to the financier here and she said we will go on some sort of payment plan. I don’t know what happens if we just say we can’t pay it.’
A Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said: ‘While we are unable to comment on individual cases, our prime concern is to look after the patients in our care and help them, or their carers, to understand any rules or regulations that may apply to their treatment while they are with us.
‘Department of Health regulations state that we are legally obliged to apply appropriate charges for overseas visitors. These charges are determined by residency and those eligible for free treatment need to be living in the UK voluntarily and for settled purposes.
‘Individual NHS Trusts have no authority to waive or reduce charges for patients identified as chargeable overseas visitors, although urgent and necessary medical treatment will never be withheld due to charging/payment issues.’
A spokesperson from the Department of Health said it could not comment on individual cases but said it appears the ‘regulations were interpreted correctly’ by the trust.
They added: ‘Eligibility isn’t based on nationality. UK citizens who live outside the European Economic Area will need health insurance when visiting the UK.’
Source Credit: Daily Mail