If the current system whereby retired UK citizens living in Europe receive medical treatment where they live – under a pan-EU reciprocal healthcare arrangement – ends, as a result of Brexit, and those retirees return to the UK, the NHS could be hit with an extra £500m in costs annually, a UK thinktank reported on Wednesday.
The news was met with shock by some media commentators, who noted that the extent to which the UK currently benefits from the existing EU-wide reciprocal healthcare scheme, compared with other EU countries, had not generally been realised previously, and might have impacted the election result if it had.
The report was published today in the form of a “briefing paper” by the Nuffield Trust, a charitable organisation that was set up in 1939 and is tasked with using research and analysis to find ways of improving healthcare delivery in the UK.
According to the report, the reason the UK benefits to the extent that it does in terms of healthcare costs is due to the fact that EU citizens who come to live in the UK tend to be younger, typically of working age, whereas many of the Brits who relocate to Europe are retiring there.
Currently there are some 190,000 British pensioners estimated to be living in such popular European retirement destinations as Spain. Many of them get their healthcare paid for through what is known as the “S1 scheme”.
At present, the UK puts around £500m into S1, according to the report. The worst-case scenario would be if the S1 scheme were to end without being replaced by a similar arrangement, and all of the expats currently receiving their healthcare in these other countries returned to the UK and ended up back in the waiting rooms of the already-straining-to-breaking-point NHS – forcing the UK to, effectively, find another half a billion pounds a year to look after them.
In other words, the report explains, an additional 900 hospital beds and 1,600 nurses, “as well as doctors, other health professionals, and support staff such as porters” would be needed to look after the returning retirees, “equivalent to two new hospitals the size of St Mary’s Hospital in London”.
“Unlike funding, these resources cannot simply be brought on stream at will,” the report adds. “There are already too few nurses for existing requirements, while hospital bed occupancy is already at very high levels, especially in winter.”
To read and download a copy of the 17-page Nuffield Trust report, Getting a Brexit deal that works for the NHS, on the Nuffield Trust’s website, click here.