Brexit could limit the ability of UK citizens with long-term illnesses to travel in Europe, British MEPs have warned. In a letter to UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a cross-party group of MEPs called on him to intervene in Brexit negotiations and safeguard the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for UK residents.
The EHIC currently allows residents of the UK to receive subsidised healthcare services in EU countries just as local patients do, but the EHIC’s fate after Brexit remains uncertain.
After a year of talks between the UK and the EU, there have been few guarantees about the card’s status. The EU guaranteed early on in the negotiations that any British citizens abroad at the time of the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc would be able to keep their EHIC card, according to The Independent. However, it is unknown what will happen to the card for the rest of the population.
The group of 16 MEPs, including members from the Conservative, Labour, Green, Liberal Democrat, SNP and Plaid Cymru parties, said this is especially important for the 29,000 dialysis patients in Britain who must go to a hospital three times a week for treatments. Because the illness is considered a pre-existing condition, private travel insurance policies do not cover the cost of the treatment, which can add up to around €1000 per week, according to the letter.
MEPs said Hunt must “stand up for dialysis patients, who on top of struggling to comprehend their diagnosis, now risk losing the freedom that the EHIC card permits them.”
“Private travel insurance does not provide a viable alternative to EHIC card for dialysis patients,” they added.
Charities in the UK also raised concerns about how losing the EHIC would impact dialysis patients.
“Every day we hear from people who are anxious about the very real possibility that their freedom to travel could be curtailed due to changes in reciprocal healthcare rights,” Fiona Loud, policy director at Kidney Care UK, said in a statement.
“Everyone has the right to live their lives to the full, including people on dialysis so we need a clear commitment from the government to protect kidney patients post-Brexit,” Loud told The Independent. “Whatever happens as we leave the EU, the needs of people with long-term conditions will continue to cross borders.”
MEPs also warned of the potential impacts on dialysis patients travelling to the UK from the EU and on tourism in Britain if an agreement is not reached.
“London especially will hopefully remain a desirable destination for Europeans post-Brexit and it is mutually beneficial not to discourage people from visiting,” they wrote in the letter.