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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.’