British expat retirees not responsible for failing NHS

Published:  12 Jan at 6 PM
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In spite of the perceived wisdom that elderly Brit expats are wrecking the NHS, aided and abetted by EU pensioners living in the UK, figures show the vast majority use heathcare provided by their countries of residence.

Using numbers provided via a freedom of information request, the BBC has published an article with figures proving that the vast majority of UK expat retirees use local services under the EEA health card agreement. In Spain, 70,000 British retirees are registered to use the Spanish healthcare system, whilst in the UK the number of Spanish expats registered for NHS coverage is just 81.

It’s estimated that 145,000 UK expat pensioners across the entire European Economic Area are registered for local healthcare provision, with only 4,000 EEA pensioners registered to use the UK public healthcare system. All EEA citizens, including Britons and also citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, are entitled to use public healthcare wherever in the EEA they live, due to reciprocal agreements.

The situation in France is roughly similar to that in Spain, with 43,000 elderly British expats covered for the use of public healthcare facilities via the EEA ruling, whilst French nationals living in Britain and registered with the NHS numbered 201. In Cyprus, 12,000 Brits can use local medical facilities, but less than five Cypriot pensioners elected to use the NHS.

When asked by reporters to explain the huge difference between the numbers, a Department of Heath official suggested the UK is perhaps not the retirement destination of choice, a sentiment with which most if not all British retirees living overseas might well agree. However, as the UK’s membership of the EEA may well be affected by Brexit, it’s at present anyone’s guess as to expat access to public healthcare via the EEA, as Brexit refers solely to membership of the European Union, with the EEA a separate entity entirely.

If the UK remains in the EEA and a favourable agreement on the rights to remain of expats abroad has been made, it’s quite possible the status quo as regards reciprocal healthcare will remain. The worst scenario, expulsion, has been on elderly expats’ minds ever since Brexit became a reality, although some who are long-stayers in EU member states might be allowed to remain with government permission. In this case, compulsory private health insurance would be a likely requirement, but would also be unaffordable for the average UK expat pensioner.
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