Brexit pensioners returning to Britain for healthcare could trigger a £1 billion funding problem for the National Health Service.
A think tank is warning that tens of thousands of pensioners may lose their right to free medical treatment in the EU and may have to return to the UK as few can afford expensive private health insurance or to pay their way abroad.
The NHS pays £500 million a year towards expat health care, but this is likely to double if they are locked out of the current arrangements after brexit, warns the Nuffield Trust.
Although the bill looks small compared to the yearly £120 billion cost of running the NHS, research by the trust points out that the NHS would need the equivalent bed space of two new hospitals to look after all the expats treated in the EU each year.
Chronic staff shortage
The NHS would also have a shortfall of 1,600 doctors, nurses and other support workers to treat them.
” Unlike funding, these resources cannot simply be brought on stream at will. There are already too few nurses for existing requirements, while hospital bed occupancy is already at very high levels, especially in winter,” says the trust.
Under current rules, British expats have the same health care rights as the local population where they live.
The trust, which is a leading healthcare charity, fears this right will end and the NHS will face a chronic staff shortage if a satisfactory Brexit result is not agreed.
Brexit impacts NHS cash
Stopping EU social care workers entering the UK after Brexit would leave the NHS and care providers short of 70,000 staff, says a report from the trust.
“The Brexit deal will affect how much money is available to spend on the NHS,” says the trust.
“The health service needs a deal with Europe that enables the future funding increases all parties agree it needs. While the £350 million figure used during the EU referendum is a myth, there is the scope for a significant funding boost when the UK stops paying its EU membership fees, which could give the NHS enough additional money for one or two years.”