Aussies a drain on Phuket hospitals

Australian visitors - mostly males in their 30s without health insurance - are posing an increasing drain on public hospitals' budgets on the Thai resort island of Phuket.

The island has become increasingly popular with not only tourists, but also retirees and long-term foreign residents lured by the lower cost of living.

But the Thai public hospital system is facing an increasing financial burden from the high expense of caring for ill, cash-strapped foreign visitors.

Dr Nara Kingkaew, deputy director of Vachira Public Hospital in Phuket, says Australians are among the leading foreign patients who seek medical care at public hospitals because they don't have insurance.

"It's a lot of problem because it's a great burden for us to look after the foreigners, especially the Westerners who come to Thailand without any health insurance and then they fall sick or are met with an accident," Dr Nara said.

There are about 30,000 Australians on Phuket in any given month out of a total of about 900,000 Australian visitors to Thailand each year.

Other nationals include Russians, British and Germans.

Dr Nara noted an Australian man who fell from a Patong Beach Hotel spent several months in hospital recuperating from his injuries, including broken legs and hips, before being discharged. He was unable to pay the cost of his hospital stay, which amounted to about $A10,000.

Foreigners in accidents are initially taken to Phuket's private hospitals, but are often moved on to the public hospital when it is revealed they have no insurance or once their funds are exhausted.

Dr Nara said the hospital faces expenses each year of more than 4.0 million baht ($A140,000) caring for foreigners, not only as patients but also those who die and whose bodies are not claimed.

The hospital has to by law cremate or dispose of the body after 30 or 60 days after notifying the embassy if no relatives come forward.

Australian offenders are often males, aged 30 to 35, who had been drinking before having an accident, often from crashing rented motorbikes.

He also pointed to a significant percentage of foreign retirees who use the hospitals.

Larry Cunningham, Australia's honorary consul on Phuket, says the issue of foreigners as a burden on public hospitals was growing.

"It's just not fair. I mean the retirees are blocking up the hospital," Mr Cunningham told AAP.

"Every time you go to Vachira (Hospital), there's a (Western) guy sitting there, legs in plaster, their arms in a sling, bits off them everywhere, being wheeled out and they are blocking up the public health system," he said.

The Thai Health Ministry has called for all visitors to be required to pay for health insurance at immigration checkpoints or have the fee incorporated in their air ticket.

Dr Nara agrees. "That is a good thing for us because when they get insurance as they enter the kingdom, when they fall sick or they met with an accident, they will have someone to pay for them, otherwise the hospital has to spend a lot of money for the foreigners."