Q My mother wants to visit me in Australia when I have my baby, but she has terminal cancer. Travel insurance is extremely expensive. If she were to require medical treatment would she be covered under the reciprocal health-care agreement with the UK?
A I am sorry to hear about your mother's prognosis. The NHS recommends all British travellers have travel insurance when travelling to any country, but in your mother's circumstances the premium would, as you suggest, probably work out more expensive than the air fare; a serious pre-existing medical condition inevitably means high quotes.
However, the reciprocal health-care agreement between the UK and Australia is a valuable option for such travellers. The agreement provides urgent or immediate medical treatment on the same terms as Australian residents - notably free care at public hospitals, though ambulances or prescribed medicines are not covered.
Unlike the EHIC card for travel to Europe, there is no need to make arrangements before leaving Britain. When your mother arrives in Australia she should enrol at a local office of Medicare, which runs the scheme. She needs to supply evidence of UK residence (eg NHS medical card or British driving licence), plus a temporary entry permit. If for any reason she can't do this, she can apply retrospectively.
The other aspect to consider is the flight. There are no non-stop flights from the UK to Australia, and none of the possible transit airports is in a country with a reciprocal agreement with Britain. To reduce the exposure to the risk of something untoward happening between flights, I recommend a same-plane trip from Heathrow: BA via Singapore, Qantas via Dubai or Virgin via Hong Kong.
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