Pressure on the NHS and the current shortage of nursing staff could be exacerbated by reciprocal healthcare demands, if the government fails to agree a deal over Brexit, according to a new report.
The report, published by a group of healthcare organisations under the banner of the Brexit Health Alliance, warned that patients could suffer dramatically if Brexit ended the current healthcare arrangements in place between the UK and the rest of the European Union.
“This is likely to mean not only more red tape and inconvenience, but could mean more pressure on our health and care system”
The report – titled Maintaining reciprocal healthcare for patients after Brexit – focused on what Brexit could mean for services in light of UK citizens who needed healthcare in another EU country, or EU citizens who required treatment while in the UK.
Specifically, it considered what might happen to patients if a satisfactory Brexit deal was not reached, which it dubbed “the worst case scenario”.
The alliance warned that in this situation an unknown proportion of the 190,000 UK pensioners currently living in the EU could have little choice but to return to the UK.
If they all returned home after reciprocal healthcare arrangements stopped, it said an extra 190,000 people could require hospital beds and 1,600 nurses, as well as doctors, other healthcare staff.
It would also lead to more “red tape”, said the report, as the current system for EU citizens is more streamlined than the way the UK manage payments and administration for other overseas patients.
The alliance said that if British people abroad could no longer get reciprocal healthcare rights it could cost the NHS up to £500m a year – based on analysis by the Nuffield Trust think-tank.
- Nurse staffing ‘essential’ to get right in Brexit deal
- DH leak reveals worst case Brexit scenario for nursing
Individually, it suggested travel insurance for visiting Europe could become unaffordable for UK citizens with existing conditions if they could no longer use the European Health Insurance Card.
Uninsured holidaymakers or people travelling on business could also face big bills if they fall ill or have an accident requiring emergency care, it warned.
The alliance called on the Brexit negotiators on both sides to take steps to make sure that such a “worst case scenario” did not come about.
Source: Neil O’Connor
Niall Dickson, co-chair of the alliance and chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “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.
“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,” he said.
He added: “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.”
The Brexit Health Alliance comprises a range of organisations from the NHS, medical research, the pharmaceutical and healthcare devices industries, and patient and public health representatives.
It is intended to complement the work of the Cavendish Coalition, which is concerned with the staffing and workforce implications in health and social care of Brexit.