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Health: Isle of Man

Volume 719: debated on Monday 14 June 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will decide whether to continue or cancel their reciprocal healthcare agreement with the Isle of Man.

My Lords, the current reciprocal healthcare agreement between the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man is due to end on 30 September 2010. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will consider this matter, in consultation with other relevant parties, in good time to reach a decision by September.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. At the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary last March, it was unanimously resolved that the Government should continue with the reciprocal healthcare agreement. It would be very ageist if that agreement were rescinded, because people such as me—I declare an interest—could not get the personal health insurance that would be needed to go to the Crown Dependencies. Is this not a form of discrimination which is totally unacceptable?

My Lords, it might be helpful if I were to clarify the current position. If the noble Lord were to go the Isle of Man, the agreement in place at the moment would enable him to receive emergency healthcare there—that is, healthcare that is immediately necessary—free of charge should he need it. The only reason for requiring travel insurance in addition would be to cover the cost of, let us say, an air ambulance back to the mainland or any extra costs that were non-medical arising out of the emergency. In that sense, the Isle of Man is no different as a travel destination than, let us say, the United States.

My Lords, the previous Government rightly trumpeted one of the important advances of the Good Friday agreement: the establishment of the British-Irish Council, bringing together government representatives and Ministers from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Did the previous Administration raise this question at the British-Irish Council, which would seem the appropriate place to explore it? If they did, what was the response?

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot help my noble friend as I have not had access to the papers relating to the previous Administration. However, I can tell him that very cordial discussions and negotiations are proceeding at the moment, and the devolved Administrations will be consulted.

My Lords, the Minister in an earlier answer referred to the United States as being a parallel, but does he not agree that what we are after is that British tourists who go on holiday to the Isle of Man feel that they are covered at least as well as if they had gone on holiday to France? Does he agree that that is not the case and, unless insurance arrangements change, our people will suffer, as will Isle of Man people? Surely the right thing to do is to keep these reciprocal arrangements going.

My Lords, if a UK resident were to travel to the Isle of Man, as I have said, and were to fall ill and need emergency care, they would receive that care free of charge. That is what the agreement currently covers. It was extended by the previous Government in March and will last until the end of September. We are using that window of opportunity to negotiate with the Isle of Man Government and, as I have said, these discussions at official level are proceeding very cordially.

My Lords, following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about reciprocal arrangements in Europe, as I understand it we have to have a card, which we present if asked to do so, if we go for treatment in Europe. What is the position here? Are people coming from mainland Europe asked to present an equivalent card here? We hear so much about NHS tourism that it rather concerns me.

My Lords, the rules are quite complicated. In the case of EEA countries, including the European Union, the UK has an obligation under EU law to pay what it is liable for in healthcare costs. Therefore, visitors from EEA member states are provided with NHS healthcare when visiting the UK and, indeed, vice versa. However, under the same regulations, the UK is entitled to claim the cost of treatment provided to citizens from EEA member states whom it has treated. Similarly, other member states can charge the UK for the cost of treating our citizens.