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No-deal Brexit could lead patients to suffer and cost £500m

End of reciprocal healthcare rights for British people in EU could cost NHS up to £500m a year

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A ‘no deal’ Brexit that ended healthcare arrangements between the UK and the EU could cost up to £500 million a year and cause patients to suffer dramatically, the Brexit Health Alliance has warned. The Alliance, which is co-chaired by NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson, is calling for “straightforward and appropriate access to reciprocal healthcare for both UK and EU patients, preferably by preserving current arrangements”.

In its briefing Maintaining reciprocal healthcare for patients after Brexit the Alliance examined what might happen to patients if a satisfactory Brexit deal is not reached. It said one consequence of a ‘no deal’ could be unaffordable travel insurance for British citizens with existing health problems travelling to Europe as they could no longer use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which currently entitles them (and EU citizens in the UK) to urgent and emergency care without paying up-front costs for insurance. But it added that there are much wider potential ramifications of a no-deal, including that ‘an unknown proportion’ of the 190,000 UK pensioners currently living in the EU could have little choice but to return to the UK – and, according to a previous analysis by the Nuffield Trust, if they all returned home after reciprocal healthcare arrangements stopped, then an extra 190,000 people could require hospital beds and 1,600 nurses, as well as doctors, other health professionals, and support staff.

The Alliance pointed out that, if British people abroad could no longer get reciprocal healthcare rights, it could cost the NHS up to £500 million a year (based on the Nuffield Trust analysis, which puts the cost of caring for everyone who could return to the UK at £1 billion a year, minus £500 million that the UK would no longer have to pay to European health systems). However, the Alliance noted that this figure does not take into account the additional income that the UK would receive from EU citizens having to pay for NHS care.

The Alliance is urging Brexit negotiators – both UK and EU –  to ensure that this ‘worst case scenario’ does not occur. To protect the interests of patients and the healthcare sector, it is calling for:

· Straightforward and appropriate access to reciprocal healthcare for both UK and EU patients, preferably by preserving current arrangements 

· If this is not possible, provisions made domestically for the planning and funding of healthcare for UK nationals currently in the EU and vice versa

· No increased burden for both UK and EU health providers if they are required to handle new, more complex administrative and funding processes, should current arrangements be discontinued.

Niall Dickson said: “An end to the mutually beneficial healthcare arrangements between the UK and the EU … is likely to mean not only more red tape and inconvenience for millions of Britons and Europeans, but could mean more pressure on our health and care system if many of those living elsewhere in Europe felt they had to return. What is more, EU travel could become unaffordable for British citizens with existing health problems.

“Patients stand to lose out dramatically if UK nationals travelling to and living in the EU are no longer able to benefit from free healthcare and EU citizens will also lose out by not being able to get free healthcare here.

“This is simply not acceptable. We want to see a Brexit settlement that will allow existing or similar arrangements to continue to benefit patients and those who provide their care.”

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