Brexit has happened. Will it impact UK medical travel?


Q: Brexit happened on 31 January, so that’s it? 

A: Not exactly. There is a transition period for the rest of 2020 where the UK effectively remains in the EU with all membership benefits, without being a member.

An implementation period is due to last until 31 December 2020. During the implementation period, EU law will continue to apply. Insurance firms will continue to benefit from passporting between the UK and EEA. Consumer rights and protections derived from EU law will also remain in place.

There are no changes to travel rules. The European Health Insurance Card and EU cross-border healthcare rules apply.

Q: Why no change in 2020? 

A: This allows the UK to negotiate with the EU 27 countries on future trade deals. 

Q: What happens if no deal is agreed by the end of this year?

A: Then all existing trade deals end. The average global trade deal takes seven years, but the UK has given itself a limit of 10 months with no scope for extension.  Significant questions remain on key areas such as WTO terms, rules of origin, and quality assurances for exporting goods. 

The UK has a higher rate of foreign investment as a percentage of GDP than any other G7 country. Much of this investment is from other EU member states. There is a risk that these businesses will look to invest elsewhere if Brexit creates additional barriers to trade.

Q: What about cross-border healthcare?

A: The UK government has made many noises about this, but in reality, goods and services have priority, so future cross-border healthcare is way down the list of priorities.

Q: But surely the UK government can negotiate with individual EU countries?

A: No EU member is allowed to open real negotiations with the UK until after they have concluded, or failed to agree, EU wide trade deals. It will be 2021 when the UK can begin individual negotiations with EU countries on trade, services, and healthcare. 

Q:  So, achieving an EU-wide deal does not matter?

A: All EU members have to negotiate as a group and can only do deals as individual countries on matters not covered by EU rules.  But negotiating with the 27 on a new EU-wide deal is harder, as each country will have its own aims, so even one dissenting country can block a particular detail of the deal. 

Q: Where does this leave the EU Cross-Border Healthcare Directive?

A: For the EU 27 and other countries signed up, it has no effect except that under it, patients to and from the UK are no longer allowed.

Q:  What is the effect on outbound UK medical travel? 

A: Most outbound UK patients are self-pay and very few are sent by the NHS, so apart from making it harder for British people to travel to Europe, it will have little effect.

Q: What is the effect on inbound UK medical travel? 

A: It will make it harder for EU citizens to travel to the UK. Much will depend on the political climate but there are already suspicions that the anti-European statements by some British politicians and parts of the media have already had an effect on inbound European numbers.   This impact is however hard to quantify.




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