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NHS Services for EU Nationals and UK Citizens Abroad

Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2016

3. If he will make an assessment of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the availability of NHS services for (a) EU nationals living, studying and working in the UK and (b) UK citizens abroad. (905655)

Before I start, the House will want to mark an important milestone, which is that this year, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brian May, Camilla Parker Bowles and Meat Loaf, the NHS is 68 years old, and its birthday is, in fact, today. I know that we will all want to wish the NHS and all who work there a very happy birthday.

As long as the UK is subject to EU law, current arrangements remain in place. As we move to a new relationship with Europe, our guiding principle will be to get the best possible deal for British citizens who live and work in, and who visit, EU countries. An EU unit will be set up in the Cabinet Office and will report to the Cabinet, and my Department will feed into its work.

I am aware that nothing will change for the next two years, but what is the Secretary of State’s proposal for reciprocity of access to healthcare within the EU, and does he envisage the £500 NHS immigration health surcharge applying to EU nationals already living in the UK?

The health surcharge that this Government have instituted for people on long-term visas to come and work and live in the UK is the right thing to do, because it is important that everyone makes a fair contribution to the cost of NHS services. In terms of future arrangements for EU nationals in the UK, that would obviously be subject to the negotiations that now happen, and a very important part of those negotiations will be access to the EU health systems for British citizens currently living in EU countries.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many EU nationals work in the national health service and how many EU nationals use the national health service? Is it not the case that the number of eastern Europeans, especially, coming to this country has simply overwhelmed GP practices and A&E centres up and down the country, and now we have got a chance to redress the balance?

Without wanting to reopen the debate that concluded on 23 June, the overwhelming view in the NHS is that we are very lucky to have the incredible support of 110,000 EU nationals working in the health and social care system. I want to put on record to this House what a fantastic job they do and how much we are all in their debt.

Very many of those 110,000 people are now acutely anxious about their future in this country, because of the despicable suggestion that they should be used as a bargaining pawn in negotiations with the EU. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Government, as a matter of urgency, guarantee their future in this country doing their dedicated work in our NHS and care system?

I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we are incredibly aware of the brilliant work that EU nationals do, not just in the NHS but in the social care system, which he was responsible for, in care homes up and down the country. We recognise that, and I hope that he will be reassured by statements made by the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary yesterday that we want to find a way of allowing those people to stay in the UK for as long as they wish to. We recognise the incredibly valuable contribution that they make, and we are confident in the negotiations ahead that we will be able to secure the outcome that they and we all want.

The last time the Secretary of State and I had an exchange in this Chamber, I suggested to him that it might be the final time we would face each other over the Dispatch Box. Although I was clearly prescient, it has not quite turned out the way I thought it would.

Following the results of the referendum, will the Secretary of State say whether he still intends to introduce an NHS charges Bill as outlined in the Queen’s Speech? Does he agree that migrants give more to the NHS than they take, that their contribution should be welcomed and that our NHS simply could not survive without them?

I enjoyed our many exchanges in this House, and it is a loss on our side as well that they will not continue. I would like to welcome the hon. Lady’s successor to her post, and I hope that I will have a chance to do so again when she asks a question later.

I agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). Migrants, or the people who work in the NHS who come from different countries, make an extraordinary contribution. It is fair to say that the NHS would fall over without the incredible work that they do. It is also true that the British people voted to control migration on 23 June, and we have to accept that verdict. In terms of the NHS and social care system, I did not hear, and I have not heard in my time as Health Secretary, enormous amounts of worry about the pressure of migration on NHS services, because on the whole migrants tend to be younger and fitter people. While accepting the verdict of the British people and what they said on 23 June, the important reassurance that we now need to give is to the many people from outside the UK who make a fantastic contribution to the running of our health and care system.

The Secretary of State may be aware that in the wake of the Brexit vote NHS commissioning bosses have delayed funding for vital medicines and services because of the fall in the value of the pound. One affected patient is Abi Longfellow, the teenager who won her battle for a wonder drug thanks to a campaign by the Sunday People. Abi currently spends 11 hours a day on a dialysis machine and was due to start on a drug that would give her a fighting chance with a kidney transplant. We were all aware that the pound might fall post referendum, so will the Secretary of State explain why no contingency plans were put in place and what he will do to ensure that, despite the Brexit vote, patients like Abi receive the lifesaving treatments and medicines that they need?

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her position. She is the third shadow Health Secretary I have faced in less than a year, and I am beginning to worry that it may be something personal. I wish her well; she knows the brief extremely well and has campaigned on it a great deal in her long parliamentary career. I will look into the case she brought up. I would not want anyone to be deprived of vital lifesaving drugs because of exchange rate fluctuations. The whole British economy, including the NHS, will have to deal with the economic shock that we may now face as a result of the Brexit vote. But now that the decision has been taken by the British people we must look for the opportunities for the UK and the NHS, and not simply worry about the uncertainties, although there will be lots of things we have to deal with.