An elderly British ex-nurse who lived in the UK for 66 years has been hit with a £5,000 bill from her former hospital after falling ill during a visit from her new home in the USA.
Kathleen Batten, 83, returned to her hometown for her sister’s funeral but suffered a heart attack as she read a tribute during the service.
She was rushed to Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, Somerset – where she worked for more than 50 years – and recovered after emergency treatment.
But as the grandmother-of-nine prepared to leave she was stunned when staff handed her a £4,617 bill for her week-long stay, saying she did not qualify for free healthcare.
Kathleen, who moved to Boston last year, has flown back to the US and refused to pay because she cannot afford – but now fears she will be arrested next time she comes here.
She said: “It’s really unfair. I’m English. I’ve paid all my dues, but I get nothing.
“If I was from Poland, I’d soon qualify from everything. I can’t pay – I don’t have that kind of money.
“They said, ‘We can’t stop you leaving the country, but when you return you’ll be flagged up’. Are they going to arrest me?'”
Kathleen, who was born in the UK and has dual nationality, worked as a staff registered nurse and sister at Musgrove Park Hospital from the age of 13 and retired in her 70s.
She first moved to the States when she was in her 20s with her husband, Ronald, and they returned to the UK shortly before he died in 1982.
Kathleen remained here until last year before going back to Boston to be closer to two of her three children and six of her nine grandchildren.
In late October, she visited Taunton to nurse her dying sister Jennifer Toller and extended her stay for the funeral last month.
Kathleen, who flew back to Boston on Wednesday, said: “I was reading the eulogy at the funeral when I started to get chest pains.
“I was admitted to Musgrove, where they said it was a heart attack.
“I had an angiogram and was kept in for a week. I wasn’t allowed to fly for four weeks, so had to change my flight again.
“Then they hit me with the bill and said, ‘You’ve got no choice, you’ve got to pay because you’re an overseas visitor’.”
“I’ve spent 66 years of my life in England and they do this to me.
“I didn’t have insurance because I booked in a rush to see my sister before she died.”
Kathleen‘s twin sister Jean Maddock, 83, said she was devastated about what has happened and is scared that Kathleen won’t be able to return home to visit.
Retired hairdresser Jean, who also lives in Taunton, Somerset, said: “It’s just devastating. I can’t understand it. I think it’s absolutely terrible and completely ridiculous.
“She is English. She has always been English and she always will be. She isn’t a foreigner who has come here for a holiday, she has come home.
“We are all really worried. It is totally wrong.”
Hayley Peters, director of patient care at Musgrove Park, said the hospital was legally obliged to make the charges, and that they cannot be waived.
She said: “We’re very sorry about the distress and upset Mrs Batten must have gone through at being taken ill while staying in the UK, especially at such a sad time for her.
“Unfortunately, people resident in the US don’t qualify for free NHS care, even if they’ve lived or worked in the UK in the past, and under new national rules we now have a legal obligation to make charges.
“The new rules this year made it a requirement for NHS hospitals to check whether a patient is an overseas visitor and to charge those who aren’t legally entitled to free care.
“This means that, unfortunately, the charges cannot be waived.
“We do realise there may be some confusion about the new regulations, and we’d urge people with relatives overseas to make sure they are aware of these rules, and to take out health insurance cover as necessary.”
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