The travel insurance sector is under the spotlight today with an investigation by The Times into allegations concerning the firm behind Boots cover.

Doctors working for Travel Insurance Facilities, which operates claims for the high street pharmacist, are reportedly being investigated by the General
Medical Council after accusations that they had denied suitable care to policyholders.

The business, which trades under brands including HolidaySafe and Alpha, also faces a probe by the Financial Conduct Authority after the watchdog received allegations that policyholders were being misled.

In one case, a customer who broke her neck in a riding accident in Spain said that she was denied a medical flight home, forcing her to travel back over land.

In total the medical council is examining at least five cases involving two doctors at the insurer.

A 40,000-word dossier sent to the Financial Conduct Authority details allegations of fraud by Travel Insurance Facilities. It alleges a pattern of practice to delay, avoid or minimise payouts, according to the newspaper.

Travel Insurance Facilities “strongly refutes” that financial considerations influence its clinical decisions and sources close to the company deny that the conduct authority has opened a formal investigation.

But the newspaper reported that the insurer has also been accused of failing to pay foreign hospitals for treatments, with one policyholder being chased for tens of thousands of pounds by a Singapore clinic.

Last year a state hospital in Antalya, Turkey, became so fed up with non-payment that it refused to treat Travel Insurance Facilities policyholders, including Boots customers, unless they paid upfront. It is now accepting policyholders again but some private clinics in the country are still refusing to do so.

There are also complaints about debts from hospitals and doctors in Canada, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic and Thailand, according to today’s report.

Travel Insurance Facilities is understood to be co-operating with the medical council. The company pointed out to The Times that the complaints represented only a tiny proportion of claimants.

It said: “When people fall ill abroad, naturally their first instinct is to want to come home. However, this may not be best for them in medical terms.

“Our focus is on the best clinical outcome based on expert medical advice, clinical fact, aviation medicine and our experience transporting unwell holidaymakers. We advise on the safest action in the specific circumstances of each case.”

The company added that its cost-containment programme was about cutting bills and eliminating fraud by hospitals, not denying cover.

It said: “We are dedicated to protecting customers from unscrupulous and unethical practices by overseas private clinics.”
The company denies deliberately avoiding contact with treating doctors and says that when clinics insist on upfront payments, policyholders are reimbursed.

Boots did not respond to a request to comment from The Times.