Patients could be the victims of a £500m-a-year cost incurred in the health system if Brexit negotiations end arrangements between the UK and the EU and Britons abroad can no longer get reciprocal healthcare rights.
As reported in the National Health Executive (NHE), the figures, which come from the Brexit Health Alliance, indicate what might happen if a satisfactory deal on Britain’s departure from the EU is not reached.
The group also said that travel insurance for British citizens visiting European nations could become unaffordable if people are no longer allowed to use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The card currently entitles travellers to urgent care without paying upfront premiums but could be scrapped if a deal is not reached.
Data from the Nuffield Trust found an unknown proportion of the 190,000 UK pensioners living in the EU could be given little choice but to return to the UK.
In the “worst-case scenario” all of these people could need hospital beds, requiring 1,600 more nurses as well as doctors and other staff whose numbers could be reduced by foreign nationals leaving the country.
The Alliance claimed no deal with the EU could also mean systems become less streamlined, as the current procedure for dealing with European patients is significantly smoother than those from other foreign countries.
The warning is built on Nuffield Trust analysis, which puts the cost of caring for everyone who returns to the UK at £1bn a year minus £500m the country would no longer have to pay to the EU.
However, these figures do not include the additional wealth that could be received by incoming citizens paying for NHS care.
“Our report sets out what could happen if we were to see an end to the mutually beneficial healthcare arrangements between the UK and the EU,” explained Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance and CEO of NHS Confederation.
“This 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.”
Under the current reciprocal system, British nationals in Europe are given healthcare on the same terms as local populations. However, it is currently unclear whether the same conditions would be met when Britain officially leaves the EU.