It’s almost impossible to avoid Brexit at the moment, but for kidney patients there are good reasons to keep abreast of the latest news and developments. In a series of blog posts, our Policy Director Fiona Loud, talks us through where we, kidney patients, are when it comes to our exit from the EU and how we may be affected. The first of these focuses on the issue of Reciprocal healthcare.
"The news has frequently mentioned the movement of people in Brexit coverage, and kidney dialysis patients who wish to holiday, travel or work in Europe will could be affected. Currently we have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which allows people to receive dialysis free of charge or with a minimal charge across the EU or in the EEA (European Economic Area which includes countries like Switzerland and Norway).
This is also known as a reciprocal healthcare agreement (because the cost is actually covered by the NHS and EU citizens can receive similar cover here in the UK) and it’s valid until 29 March, 2019. If there is a Brexit deal there will be a transition period until December 2020 and the EHIC will remain valid until then. New legislation is in place to enable the government to negotiate reciprocal healthcare arrangements during this time. However, if the UK leaves the EU with no deal the EHIC will no longer be valid.
The latest government advice can be found on their website, although according to this guidance people with long term conditions who will need care when away should check with their doctor first. Despite many enquiries, we have received no confirmation that dialysis will be covered in a no deal. The Association of British Insurers have advised us that insurers have not yet devised new policies which will cover payment for dialysis.
With just two months until we leave the EU patients still do not know if their dialysis will be covered
This leaves patients who have already booked holidays or respite breaks (or those who need to travel in Europe for work) in limbo. With just two months until we leave the EU they still do not know if their dialysis will be covered when they are away, or if they will need to find around 1,000 Euros per week to fund this themselves (300-400 Euros per session for a seven day trip). That additional cost may put the trip itself in jeopardy and it is unlikely that any cancellations will be covered by insurance policies. Current insurance policies do not cover dialysis, as it is a pre-existing condition which was covered by EHIC when the policy was issued.
We have asked for urgent clarification from the government and following our meeting with officials from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) some ‘enhanced' guidance is being prepared. However it is going to confirm what we already know: that no dialysis treatment funding can be guaranteed in a no deal Brexit. We will share the guidance with you as soon as we receive it. On the slightly more positive side, we understand that France and Spain are preparing legislation for reciprocal healthcare with us but this is not in place yet and will only apply if there is a managed withdrawal. We are awaiting a reply from the government to our letter asking for a commitment that anyone who has already booked their travel and dialysis will have their dialysis costs paid for if there is no deal.
Patients ask us every week about this issue and it is frustrating and disappointing that we are still unable to give reassurances, particularly because the risk of this happening was pointed out by us to government in three different parliamentary evidence sessions over the last two years and confirmed in writing by Sabine Weyand, the EU deputy chief negotiator for Brexit.
What you can do?
If you are as frustrated as we are about this then please write to your MP – there is information on how to do this on our Brexit page If you use social media you could also explain what travelling while being on dialysis means to use using #MyEHICStory and tagging us @kidneycareuk so we can share your story too. This can be via a brief video or any creative way you think might help raise awareness of this issue.
For further info please contact us