Health abroad despite Brexit

The Brexit day draws ever closer, with still no sign of the obvious need for a second referendum to be implemented.  One of the strong arguments for anti-Brexit to prevail is that relating to health care.  Something that seems to have been overlooked is the right to health care provided by European law.  I, along with many others, was not even aware of the problem.  It is a significant matter with a huge potential consequence for UK citizens if the UK falls out of the EU, especially with No-Deal.  It relates to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.  This Charter set out the right of all EU citizens to health care, for the first time.  In Chapter 4 “Solidarity”, Article 35 confirms that: “Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices.”  When the Charter entered into European Union law as a part of the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, oddly, the UK sought an opt-out from the Charter.  The reasons for taking this step were unclear, but apparently the UK believed that it had achieved this.

It is fairly understood by lawyers that, at the moment, all EU citizens (thus UK citizens, too) enjoy the right to health care as the Charter rights are protected by the European Court of Justice.  Why do I mention this matter now?  Because it is the confirmed determination of Mrs. May (the UK Prime Minister) and the UK Government to remove this right by excluding the whole of the Charter from UK law as a consequence of Brexit.  It is highly likely that, as a result, UK citizens’ rights to healthcare will recede as time goes by for several reasons:

  • the anticipated (and already visible) reduction in the NHS workforce,
  • the increasing and rising demand for NHS services,
  • the effective reduction of other vital resources provided to the NHS due to monetary pressures,
  • potential difficulties with regard to access to medicines, drugs and up-to-date equipment, especially in the event of no deal.

But there is also another very important consequence which should be stressed now.

For many years, UK citizens have enjoyed the availability of healthcare, paid for on a reciprocal basis, “across border” with other EU member states (as long as you remember to take the necessary EHIC/E111 card!!).  This has worked very well for the many people who have received excellent emergency service from all across the EU when being away from the UK.  However, many UK citizens have also taken advantage of EU Treaty and Directive rules about cross border treatment.  This allows for treatments to be provided and paid for, partially or in full, by the UK Department of Health or NHS, subject to certain terms and conditions being met. These opportunities have been taken for several reasons, the principal being: better clinical expertise; lower treatment costs; more availability of specialist treatments; and/or, shorter waiting times.

It is not clear yet but almost certainly the availability of treatments under these conditions will disappear with Brexit. However, there still remains the option for patients themselves (especially with health insurance backing) to make the decision to beat the waiting list, lower the cost and take note of the excellent healthcare and treatments that will still be available from world-class healthcare providers, in particular, in Croatia.  

Source/acknowledgements: The Lancet, March 2nd, 2019

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