Expats returning from EU countries expected to cost NHS a billion

Published:  31 May at 6 PM
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NHS treatment for the many thousands of UK expat retirees returning to Britain post-Brexit is expected to cost a billion sterling.

At present, the reciprocal agreement over reduced-rate or free medical treatment offered to British pensioners living in EU countries is costing the UK some £500,000. Experts are now predicting the full cost to the NHS of providing healthcare to around 190,000 former expat retirees post-Brexit will soar to around one billion. In addition, increasing drugs costs and a shortage of nurses and social care workers is expected to hike health service costs still further.

It’s considered extremely unlikely the reciprocal agreement will survive the upcoming Brexit negotiations, landing the NHS with a bill of double that at present. A secondary consideration is a severe increase in pressure for hospital beds, made worse by struggles to cope with increased levels of patient numbers whilst dealing with staff shortages caused by EU expat heathcare workers being forced to return to their home countries. Researcher Mark Dayan stated in an interview with the Independent the total cost to Britain’s already beleaguered health service could be much higher should public finances be affected by a post-Brexit economic slowdown.

Dayan pointed out that present-time staff shortages could become far worse due to the sharp decline in British applications to study for a career in nursing. Bringing in expensive agency staff, he added, would hit NHS finances even harder. It’s been estimated two new hospitals would need to be built simply to maintain the service for UK expats returning from living in Europe. His report stated Brexit negotiators should attempt to secure a deal as regards retaining healthcare in their countries of residence for all British expats.

The report came at the same time as warnings from the Institute of Fiscal Studies indicated the NHS is facing an ‘incredibly challenging’ five years. Whilst the three main political parties have pledged increases in health spending, every proposal falls far short of the amount actually needed to deal with the UK’s ageing population, increases in chronic illnesses and the escalating costs of new drugs and technological advances.

Speaking for the 70,000 retired Britons in Spain who use reciprocal healthcare, Bremain in Spain’s leader Sue Wilson said expat pensioners on low incomes will have no choice but to return to the UK after Brexit is finalised. Buying into the Spanish system, she added, would cost 157 euros (£137) a month, plus 100 per cent of the charges for prescriptions rather than the 10 per cent payable under the agreement. Private healthcare, she said, bans those with pre-existing condition and is very expensive.
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