Current track





Written by on May 8, 2018

Brexit: Loss of EHIC ‘to stop thousands of Britons with long-term illnesses taking holidays abroad’

Jon Stone Brussels

Jeremy Hunt has been urged to intervene in Brexit talks to stop British people from losing their right to free healthcare on the continent – amid warnings that changes could prevent those with long-term conditions from leaving the country at all.

A cross-party group of British MEPs, including from the health secretary’s own Conservative Party, has written to Mr Hunt asking him to safeguard the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – a perk of EU membership that entitles UK residents to the same subsidised care as local patients.

Medical charities have warned that 29,000 kidney dialysis patients who need to attend hospital every other day would face insurmountable costs of more than £800 a week if the card goes, effectively putting holidays and rest breaks out of reach for people on ordinary incomes.

The status of the EHIC is uncertain in Brexit talks, with limited guarantees after a year of negotiations between Britain and the EU.

The 16 MEPs, from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP, Green, and Plaid Cymru parties, called on the health secretary to “stand up for dialysis patients, who on top of struggling to comprehend their diagnosis, now risk losing the freedom that the EHIC card permits them”.

“Private travel insurance does not provide a viable alternative to EHIC card for dialysis patients,” they wrote.

“Insurance companies will not cover the treatment, as a pre-existing condition. The cost of paying privately for dialysis sessions in the EU is up to €1,000 (£880) a week depending on the circumstances and procedures used.”

Charities echoed the MEPs’ comments, warning that long-term conditions would continue to “cross borders” whatever the political status of the UK.

Fiona Loud, policy director at the charity Kidney Care UK, told The Independent: “Every day we hear from people who are anxious about the very real possibility that their freedom to travel could be curtailed due to changes in reciprocal healthcare rights.


“Whatever happens as we leave the EU, the needs of people with long-term conditions will continue to cross borders”

Fiona Loud, Kidney Care UK

“For the 29,000 people in the UK who have kidney failure and who need dialysis to stay alive, the EHIC system is essential to allow them to travel in Europe. Everyone has the right to live their lives to the full, including people on dialysis so we need a clear commitment from the government to protect kidney patients post-Brexit.

“Whatever happens as we leave the EU, the needs of people with long-term conditions will continue to cross borders.”

In the early stages of withdrawal talks, the EU guaranteed that anyone abroad at the point of Brexit would be able to retain their EHIC card. But there has been no reported movement on the status of the card for other travellers, making up the vast majority of the population.

Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat MEP and one of the letter’s signatories, added: “Far from providing a boost to the NHS – Brexit means all patients lose their free healthcare rights when travelling abroad in the EU.

“It’s time Jeremy Hunt stood up for the NHS and the vulnerable in these negotiations.

“Whatever the Brexit deal looks like, the British people should have the final say on whether they think it is as good as the deal we have now inside the EU.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We want to secure the continuation of European Health Insurance Card rights for current and future UK EHIC holders, subject to a reciprocal deal with the EU.

We welcome the progress that has been made in negotiations and have been clear that we want all current and future UK nationals to continue to benefit from EHIC rights.”

Tagged as

Reader's opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *