Government says EU citizens living in UK will not have to pay for NHS care

Directive means two million people will suddenly live in a state where access to care depends on ability to pay

Colin Drury
Wednesday 14 August 2019 23:27 BST
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The government has said more than two million EU citizens living in the UK will continue being eligible for free NHS healthcare under a no-deal Brexit.

The Department of Health disputed earlier reports alleging that some EU citizens living in the UK would have to pay for non-urgent care.

EU citizens currently need to prove they live in the UK to access free routine NHS services, by providing bank statements or other documents.

This will not change under a no-deal Brexit, regardless of whether those affected have applied for the EU settlement scheme.

If EU citizens cannot prove they are residents they will have to pay for non-urgent care, as they do currently.

The Independent understands that no one will need to prove eligibility before receiving urgent treatment.

The Times reported that new rules circulated to hospital managers said health trusts should begin checking the status of patients after Britain leaves the EU.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health earlier said: “EU citizens living lawfully in the UK on the day of Brexit will be able to continue to use the NHS as long as they can demonstrate that they live in the UK on a lawful and property settled basis.”

The plans, as initially reported, were heavily criticised by both doctors and citizens’ rights groups.

“Such a move is discriminatory and outrageous,” said Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million group, which campaigns for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. “The new guidance is creating a hostile environment for millions of EU nationals who have the right to free healthcare in the UK but won’t be able to prove it.

“This outrageous decision spells chaos as the two groups of EU citizens will be indistinguishable to the NHS and we are running the risk of people being denied vital treatment they are fully entitled to.”

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association, said health bosses were concerned that hospitals would suddenly be placed on the front line of immigration checks.

He said: “This system would present hospitals with the mammoth task of determining where a patient was born, and, if they are from one of the 27 EU nations, whether they are eligible for free care.

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“With most people not carrying documentation to prove this... it is a nigh-on impossible ask for any workforce, let alone overstretched NHS staff.”

The Independent understands that such checks of documentation already occur and will continue as normal.

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