THE BLOG

The Real 'Health Tourism': Brits in the Rest of Europe

12/04/2015 19:46 BST | Updated 07/06/2015 10:59 BST

We've long known that the issues around EU free movement - or 'migration' as the British media insist on calling it - are a lot more nuanced than our hyperbolic public debate suggests.

EU citizens living in the UK are more likely to be in work than their British counterparts, less likely to be using public services, and effectively subsidise the British public purse to the tune of around £2 billion a year - but you won't see that on a Ukip election leaflet.

At the same time, 2.2 million British migrants living in other EU countries (or 'expats' as we call them) happily take advantage of their rights to work, study and retire anywhere in Europe, showing that free movement genuinely is a two-way street.

However, new figures from the Department of Health on the costs of British holidaymakers in the EU give a whole new meaning to the term 'health tourism'. The stats, secured by my friend Stuart Bonar, Lib Dem candidate for Plymouth Moor View, and reported in the Guardian today, show that the rest of the EU actually pays out five times more for British visitors using their health services than we do for theirs here: £155m compared to a £30m cost to the NHS.

The big ones are Spain, France, and Germany, where British visitors cost local health services up to a staggering 34 times more than their visitors to the UK do. Just four of the 27 other EU countries spent less on treating British visitors than the NHS did on their nationals (Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania and Lithuania).

The figures are welcome further evidence that free movement is a two-way street from which the UK benefits as much as - and in some cases more than - anyone else. They also puncture a big hole in claims that Britain is submerged by 'health tourists' - if anything, it seems to be the other way around.

With 42 million visits by Brits to other EU countries every year, it is clear that we are one of the biggest users of the right to travel freely in Europe - just one of the benefits of our EU membership that the Tories and Ukip would put at risk.

So far, the Liberal Democrats are the only party to have stood up unequivocally for our EU membership in this election campaign - and for the clear benefits for Britain of EU free movement. Let's hope some of the others will too.