The NHS could be faced with having to pay nearly half a billion pounds more if British expats decide to return to the UK because their right to healthcare in EU countries is withdrawn after Brexit.
According to a new briefing paper on the potential impact of exiting the EU by think-tank The Nuffield Trust, the cost of treating expat pensioners on the NHS in the UK rather than abroad could potentially double.
Currently around 190,000 British pensioners live in other EU countries and receive healthcare under the EU reciprocal ‘S1’ scheme. Should they return to the UK post Brexit if this benefit is withdrawn, the cost to the NHS is likely to be around £979 million, around twice the amount that the government currently reimburses for their care.
Also, the report says the figure could be “substantially higher” if the NHS has to pay to replace staff if EU migration is reduced, or if it faces a rise in the cost of medicines, and warns that care homes and home-care agencies could end up as many as 70,000 staff short by 2025/26, if migration of unskilled workers from the EU is halted.
Around 900 extra beds would be likely to be required if this number of British pensioners returned, but the briefing argues that, unlike funding, beds and staff cannot simply be brought on-stream at will.
On the plus side, there is still the scope for a funding boost for the UK when it stops paying its EU membership fees, which could give the NHS additional money for one or two years, it notes.
“It is possible that extra funds could be found for the NHS from any cancellation of Britain’s EU membership fees – but whether or not these benefits will outweigh the significant staffing and financial costs Brexit may impose on already stretched services remains to be seen,” noted Mark Dayan, policy and public affairs analyst at the Nuffield Trust.
“That depends largely on the NHS being recognised as a significant priority as we enter some of the most important negotiations in Britain’s history”.