NHS European Office

Reciprocal Healthcare

Medical staff helping baby

Under current EU law, EU citizens benefit from rights to reciprocal healthcare when they are in any of the European Union's 28 Member States. 

These rights apply whether they are travelling temporarily between EU Member States, for example, on holiday or studying abroad, residing permanently or longterm in another EU country, or when travelling to another EU Member State specifically to receive pre-arranged medical treatment.

Brexit negotiations and the impact of a possible no deal

Once the UK leaves the European Union, these reciprocal rights will come to an end, unless both the UK and the EU agree to continue or replace them.

Both sides in the Brexit negotiations have agreed in principle to preserve reciprocal healthcare rights, at least for those citizens already residing in another EU country (see our summary of the current position in negotiations regarding reciprocal healthcare). However, until the final outcome of the talks is known, uncertainty remains.

In the event that no agreement is reached between the UK and the EU to continue with the existing rights to reciprocal healthcare, the consequences could be severe, for both patients and healthcare providers.

Brexit Health Alliance

The Brexit Health Alliance is campaigning for continued access to reciprocal healthcare rights post-Brexit.

This paper from the Alliance outlines how the current reciprocal arrangements work, the progress made so far in the Brexit negotiations and the implications of a possible "no deal" or bad deal for both patients and healthcare providers.

Reciprocal healthcare rights is also the subject of our latest Brexit podcast, where we examine the implications of Brexit for real patients.  We hear from kidney patient Maddy Warren about why the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is so important to her and why maintaining existing EU level collaborations is essential for rare disease patients.

On 25 October, Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, give evidence to the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee on Brexit, highlighting how the Alliance is keen on maintaining EU-UK reciprocal healthcare arrangements post-Brexit. A video recording of his evidence is available here.

Blog Posts

Throughout the week of 16 October, we will be publishing a series of blog posts in which patients and clinicians will relate their experience of how current reciprocal healthcare arrangements work for them and what the possible consequences might be should these arrangements no longer be in place post-Brexit.

  • The first of our blogs comes from dialysis patient Nicola Hawkins, who describes how the right to access state-provided healthcare across the EU via the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) has given her a better quality of life, as it allows her to travel on holiday to other parts of Europe, knowing that her dialysis healthcare is covered.
  • In this blog, Professor Chris Chapple, consultant urologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and coordinator of eUROGEN, a European Reference Network for rare urogenital diseases, outlines why the UK's decision to leave the EU must not jeopardise patients' access to the best possible care, regardless of where they happen to live and how the opportunity for greater clinical collaboration across Europe through European Reference Networks should continue post-Brexit.
  • Rob Johnson was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2011. He and his family reside in France and in this blog, Chris James, director for external affrairs at the MND Assoication, explains how Rob's healthcare needs are catered for by the French healthcare system and his family's concerns that a "no deal" outcome in the Brexit negotiations will be detrimental to his quality of life.
  • Professor Helen Cross, coordinator of EpiCARE, a European Reference Network for rare and complex epilepsies, writes about the innovative work being done by the network and her concern that patients with rare and complex epilepsies will be denied access to European expertise and new treatments, should the UK no longer be able to participate in European Reference Networks post-Brexit.
  • In their joint blog, dialysis patient Amanda and her partner Stephen explain how the European Health Insurance Card has helped Amanda feel less trapped by her treatment, by allowing her to dialyse while abroad and that were the EHIC to be discontined post-Brexit, the psychological effect on her would be detrimental.
  • Here Prof. Jill Clayton-Smith, a clinical geneticist, who collaborates with colleagues across the EU on the diagnosis, management and treatment of rare diseases, voices her concern that leaving the EU could jeopardise these collaborative working arrangements, which are not only useful for clinicians and researchers, but vital for patients.

Other Resources

  • Kidney Care UK has produced a comprehensive fact sheet on the vital importance of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) system to kidney dialysis patients and why the present EHIC system should be continued in its current form post-Brexit.
  • The European Commission has released a series of video testimonials where patients and clinicians explain how the newly established European Reference Networks will help to treat and manage rare or complex conditions. The NHS leads a quarter of these networks, which bring together leading providers from across Europe to tackle medical conditions that require highly specialised treatment and a concentration of knowledge and resources.

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