The Government will provide only six months of NHS healthcare for UK nationals living in EU member states in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Approximately 180,000 people living in the EU (excluding Ireland) will no longer have their healthcare paid for by the NHS in a no-deal scenario if member states do not agree with the Government’s proposal that the current arrangement should continue until 31 December 2020.
Following exit day, those already on NHS healthcare including pensioners, students, those on disability benefits and UK employees temporarily posted in the EU, will have six months to find alternative care coverage.
When those six months are over, the Government will continue to support people during the registration process from member states systems if needed; however, it has not yet been made clear what this support entails.
This commitment is not confirmed as it depends on whether or not EU countries accept the EU’s offer.
BMA: no-deal must be avoided
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Earlier this year, the Government assured us that care costs for UK citizens in the EU would be covered for up to 12 months, so to see this now reduced to just six is incredibly worrying and reinforces why every effort must be made to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
‘This announcement is a temporary stop gap that will only add further cost pressures to our economy and completely fails to provide medium or longer-term security for the 180,000 UK nationals in the EU, creating yet even more uncertainty about the potentially devastating consequences of Brexit.
‘It’s therefore, imperative that the Government works to prevent the UK precipitously crashing out of the EU, so that the health of our citizens, be they visiting or living in Europe, continue to get the high-quality care they need and deserve.’
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson confirmed that UK nationals living in the EU will have NHS access should they visit England, Scotland and Wales or if they permanently move back, and that cover will also be available for the interim period.
They said: ‘If the period is longer than six months and the [member] state does not cover their healthcare, this will ensure appropriate healthcare should there be delays or a lengthy registration process, and to be eligible for this protection individuals must have applied within local timeframes or no later than six months after the exit day.
‘In exceptional circumstances, the UK government has put in place provisions to provide bespoke support should people find themselves in a challenging position due to a change in their healthcare.
‘Transitional support will cover people with long-term conditions as well, there’s no exception there at all.’
The six-month timeframe was reached as it is the average amount of time it takes to register for healthcare in member states.
Take action now
The DHSC is urging people to ‘think now about your own needs and circumstances’. This includes registering as a resident under the member state’s rules, checking in with local healthcare services to understand how cover will change, and to consider buying health insurance while applying to local health care schemes.
The DHSC has said that discussions with EU states is ongoing following an initial proposal that healthcare coverage could be extended until 31 December 2020 if no deal is reached.
In a statement, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘While the Government continues to work towards a good deal, I am today announcing that pensioners, students and UK workers living in the EU will have their healthcare costs covered for six months after 31 October, whatever the circumstances of Brexit.
‘All UK nationals in the EU should act now and take the simple steps needed to secure their access to healthcare.’