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UK pays 15 times more out to EEA than it receives for healthcare

EXCLUSIVE The UK Government paid almost 15 times as much out to other EEA nations for healthcare than it received under reciprocal arrangements last year.

Figures from the Department of Health, obtained by Pulse, show that in 2014/15, the UK paid out a total of £659.7m for healthcare supplied in other EEA nations, whilst receiving just £43.3m.

According to the DH, the imbalance is largely due to the number of British pensioners retiring abroad under the free EU movement rules.

But it comes shortly after the DH has published a consultation earlier this month into charging overseas visitors for some GP services, such as blood tests, lung function tests and prescriptions. GP and nurse consultations will remain free ‘to protect public health’, but the BMA warned the new system would ‘cause confusion’.

The new figures detail the overall expenditure figures for healthcare costs, including under the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme, and include pensioners and workers who reside abroad who remain subject to UK tax and insurance.

Ireland, at £225.8m, received the largest sum from the UK in 2014/15, followed by Spain at £210.3m. Ireland paid the UK £18.4m, while Spain paid less than £181,000.

migration box 290px wide

migration box 290px wide

The amount recouped under the EHIC scheme also shows a large differential, with the UK paying out £141.3m, and claiming back £28.3bn in 2014/15. Although, the DH said that the outgoing sum covered both emergency and ‘planned’ treatments.

Since April this year, non-EEA visitors are charged a surcharge of £200 to access the NHS, but this does not apply in primary care.

New BMA and NHS England guidance recently informed GPs they must treat everyone, including tourists from non-EEA countries, free of charge, although this may change under DH proposals.

The DH said a small pilot in nine practices that ran for a few weeks last summer showed it takes 30 minutes extra per month for GP practices to check EHIC documentation for new registrants.

A DH spokesperson said: ’International visitors are welcome to use the NHS, provided they pay for it - just as families living in the UK do through their taxes. This Government was the first to introduce tough measures to clamp down on migrants accessing NHS care and create incentives for hospitals to pursue the money they are owed, which we expect to recover up to £500m a year by 2018 from visitors using the NHS.’

DH claims about the money it could save by recovering cash from non-residents were branded an ‘exaggeration’ by former chief executive of NHS England, Sir David Nicholson this year.

BMA deputy chair Dr Kailash Chand said: ’While there may be room for improvement in the current system for reclaiming healthcare costs from European or other governments whose citizens are treated by our healthcare system, we should not introduce proposals that impact on the care patients receive and we must ensure that sick and vulnerable patients are not deterred from seeking treatment.

’Most importantly, GPs and other healthcare professionals do not have the capacity or the resources to administer an extended charging system that could require them to extensively vet every single patient when they register with a new practice… A doctor’s duty is to treat the patient in front of them, not act as a border guard.’


Readers' comments (9)

  • The answer is simple. If you live in another country then fund your own healthcare.

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  • Anyone who does not contribute tax to the the UK should pay. Even for the "just a GP" services, this should not be free and fixed fee of £30 for a foreigner to pay irrespective of what they present is fair for all.

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  • These are baby steps toward's removing the free at the point of use status of health care access.

    The government is experimenting on foreigners first.

    Not that I mind.

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  • 10:44 Interesting point

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  • Vinci Ho

    Am I right to say the cornerstone argument in this article is actually a lot more UK pensioners had gone abroad to live as compared to the opposite direction move of other EU residents ?

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  • To follow the "logic" of Chand Nagaul's argument, one would expect a total collapse of other health systems (such as the whole Western world) that do make charges, and the streets of Bordeaux or Bonn to be littered with the "vulnerable" in extremis. No evidence of that when I last checked; methinks the good Doctor is talking tosh.

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  • Absolute rubbish! We have been checking ID for years and it is part of a non-discriminatory eligibility check so all patients have to produce the same/similar ID. It's not rocket science! The reason we pay out more is because we have "MUG" printed over our foreheads. Free healthcare for all! No wonder our NHS is going down the tubes. Unless it's immediately necessary, charge any patient who can't prove eligibility.

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  • Drachula

    We do (did) check when registering people, but not for foreign visitors. And we never record(ed) who has been seen from where, so how would the Gov collect money? In any case, that is surely OUR money, not Gov!
    Once again, GP is where it all goes, free for all except the the strain on the practices!

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  • I had to pay £160 before I could even phone an ambulance whilst away in Spain - that's the kind of healthcare that we need over here!!!

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