Failure to maintain existing healthcare rights for UK and EU citizens could see the health service hit with additional costs and new administrative burdens, according to the NHS Confederation-led Brexit Health Alliance.
The report published this week warns that failure to continue reciprocal health rights enshrined in the EHIC (European health insurance card) and S1 scheme, post-Brexit would mean provision for the health needs of UK expats would return to the NHS.
In its recent briefings on Brexit, the BMA calls on those negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU to either retain existing reciprocal agreements or to form new ones following Brexit.
The briefing warns, however, that the UK Government’s decision to end freedom of movement and leave the single market pose significant challenges to retaining existing reciprocal arrangements on health.
The NHS Confederation report adds that while preserving the rights of British and EU citizens respectively living in the EU or UK prior to the 2016 referendum has been agreed in principle, more work is needed for these to be ‘explicitly ringfenced’.
It said: ‘There are currently 190,000 UK pensioners living in the EU who have the right to receive healthcare on the same terms as the local population.
‘If these arrangements were to be discontinued in the future, this would mean that planning and funding provisions should be made in the UK’s NHS for these citizens, many of whom may have chronic conditions or more complex healthcare needs than younger citizens of working age.
‘If British people in the EU could no longer get reciprocal healthcare rights, it could cost the NHS up to £500 million a year … [and] a significant new administrative burden could emerge for hospitals in the event of the EHIC being discontinued.’
The increased costs of £500m for the NHS is based on the findings of a report by the Nuffield Trust, ‘Getting a Brexit deal that works for the NHS’.
The report determined that loss of access to health rights in the EU would result in £1bn extra costs to the NHS, offset by £500m no longer needing to be paid in reimbursements to EU states providing treatment for UK citizens.