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Healthcare Costs (EU and UK Citizens)

Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 10 May 2016

12. How much was (a) collected in payment for NHS care received in the UK by EU citizens and (b) paid for healthcare received by UK citizens in other EU countries in the last 12 months. (904948)

For 2014-15, it is estimated that the UK owes other European economic area countries and Switzerland £674 million and is owed £49.5 million by other EEA countries and Switzerland for healthcare activity received in that year.

My constituents in Kettering are increasingly fed up with our national health service paying for the healthcare of foreigners who come to this country to freeload on our system. What more can be done to make sure that hospitals and other healthcare providers bill foreign citizens for the NHS services that they use in this country?

The Government take extremely seriously the issue of making sure that only those who should have access to NHS services do access them. Let me make an important point about the figures that I have just given. Some 80% of that imbalanced statistic represents our pensioners who choose to retire to Europe, typically for sunnier weather. The figure is 80% because many more UK pensioners retire to Europe than European pensioners retire here, and there will always be an imbalance. I am sure that even the keenest Brexiteer would not claim that Britain would be sunnier outside the EU.

Will the Minister encourage her Back Benchers to study the expert evidence that was given recently to the Select Committee on Health on the issue that the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) has just raised, our access to free healthcare in Europe, and the economic shock that our leaving the European Union would cause to the NHS finances and to major public health measures such as clean air and clean water that benefit us immensely? Every single one of them told our Committee that leaving the European Union would be disastrous for the NHS, disastrous for health and disastrous for public health.

On this, I am happy to say that I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I encourage all colleagues to look at the evidence deposited with the Committee. Just last year, UK European health insurance card holders—5.5 million people—were able to travel to any other EEA country or Switzerland safe in the knowledge that they would be able to receive free healthcare or reduced costs arising from healthcare if they needed it. That offers great peace of mind and shows that Britain is safer in a reformed EU.