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Reciprocal Healthcare Arrangements

Volume 686: debated on Thursday 17 December 2020

Today I am notifying the House about arrangements the Government have made to support people who require ongoing, routine healthcare treatment in order to be able to travel to the European economic area or Switzerland after the end of the transition period, should there be no further negotiated outcome with the EU. These arrangements would commence from 1 January 2021.

Current reciprocal healthcare arrangements enable large numbers of UK-insured individuals to access healthcare when they live, study, work or travel in the European economic area or Switzerland, and vice versa when European economic area or Switzerland-insured individuals come to the UK. Although some people are covered under the withdrawal agreement, for everyone else these arrangements will come to an end on 31 December 2020.

Negotiations on future arrangements with the EU are ongoing and include necessary healthcare provisions. If agreed, such provisions would provide effectively the same healthcare cover as the European health insurance card (EHIC). The Government continue to work hard to secure these arrangements.

In the event we have not reached an EU-wide agreement on reciprocal healthcare, the Government will implement a time-limited healthcare scheme that supports UK residents with ongoing, routine treatment needs, who are visiting the European economic area or Switzerland from 1 January 2021. This type of treatment was previously covered under the EHIC scheme.

This Government will introduce the scheme with the intention that it is used by individuals who are certain to require treatment while abroad, such as regular dialysis, oxygen therapy or certain types of chemotherapy. The Government recognise that these ongoing, routine treatment costs can be expensive, and makes travelling abroad extremely challenging for many people.

The scheme will be temporary and will cover travel that takes place between 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2021. People applying for the scheme must be ordinarily resident in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland and entitled to the treatment on the NHS. Individuals will need to work with their NHS clinician to agree their treatment requirements and confirm they meet the criteria in the scheme.

The NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) will deliver this scheme for the whole of the UK. NHSBSA is an arm’s length body of the Department of Health and Social Care. It provides a range of critical central services to NHS organisations, NHS contractors, patients and the public.

The exception to the new scheme is travel to Ireland as the UK and Irish governments are committed that UK and Irish residents should continue have access to necessary healthcare when visiting the other country.

The Government will assess its options for reciprocal healthcare if we do not achieve an EU-wide arrangement. This includes the possibility of negotiating bilateral arrangements on social security coordination, including reciprocal healthcare, with individual EU member states.

The Department of Health and Social Care will publish further guidance on the scheme, its criteria and application process shortly.