Brexit could prevent UK patients from seeking specialist and potentially lifesaving treatment abroad, experts have warned.
A House of Lords report on the impact of the country’s departure from the EU on healthcare states that unless and agreement is reached, “rights to reciprocal healthcare currently enjoyed by 27 million UK citizens, thanks to the European Health Insurance Card, will cease after Brexit”.
It also warns that post-March 2019, schemes which cover planned treatment of patients in other EU member states, including the S2 and Patients’ Rights Directive, will come to an end at the same time.
Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, who is championing the pro-EU Best For Britain campaign, told HuffPost UK: “We knew that, contrary to Boris Johnson’s protestations, £350 million per week extra is not going to be made available to the NHS after Brexit.
“Now it looks as though healthcare cover in the EU could be withdrawn from 27 million Brits as well.
“It is clear that Brexit is going to be bad for people’s health as well as their wallets and security.”
The S2 scheme is used when patients and referred to another specialist treatment provider in another EU state, and has been described as “especially valuable” for patients with rare diseases or in border situations, where their nearest suitable facilities might be in a different country.
In 2016, about 1,300 S2 documents were issued to UK citizens and 1,100 to EU, EEA and Swiss nationals for treatment in Britain.
The Patients’ Rights Directive covers patients travelling abroad for treatment and paying upfront, reimbursing them afterwards, and figures show nearly 1,200 Brits benefited from it in 2015.
The British Medical Association says such schemes save the NHS cash, as it would cost more to provide most of the care domestically.
Treasurer Dr Andrew Dearden said: “With less than a year to go until Britain leaves the EU, patients and doctors both in the UK and on the continent are still no closer to knowing what Brexit will mean for them.
“These include the thousands of Britons living abroad, those living and working either side of the Irish border, and those patients who need to travel to another EEA country to receive specialist treatment.
“Brexit must not be allowed to put patients at risk, and so we are urging that negotiators prioritise continued access to reciprocal healthcare arrangements in any final deal, or at least ensure that any replacement schemes provide the same level of care for people of the UK and the rest of Europe.”
Theresa May has promised more money for the NHS through the “Brexit dividend” the UK will receive when it leaves the EU - but ministers have admitted it will not be anywhere near the levels promised by Leave campaigners during the referendum.