As a citizen of the UK, you are entitled to receive state-provided healthcare whilst visiting a European country on a temporary basis until the end of the transitional arrangements for our European Union (EU) exit, i.e. 31 December 2020. To do so, you must have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), available through a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the EU.
If visiting Europe, this means that patients with kidney failure are able to receive the dialysis sessions they need whilst away at the same rate as local citizens, which generally means without paying for them. Sessions must be booked in with a suitable clinic in advance.
The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property. We always recommend that patients take out travel insurance for this reason, although it is more expensive than it is for those without long term conditions.
The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property.
However, if we have no reciprocal healthcare arrangements once the transitional period finishes at the end of 2020 it should be noted that there is no insurance available to cover the dialysis itself. Kidney Care UK has worked over the past few years, from giving evidence to the Health Select Committee and the Lords EU committee to regular communications with DHSC and research with Sheffield University, to ask the government to make future arrangements but we are currently no further ahead with this.
The majority of people on haemodialysis have the treatment three times a week. It takes 4-5 hours per treatment, not counting the time to be put on and taken off dialysis and travelling to and from a dialysis unit/hospital site. Being put on to dialysis means either a nurse or patient inserting large needles attached to tubes through which blood flows in and out of a machine which cleanses it, giving about 10% of normal kidney function. Missing dialysis sessions is very dangerous. Quality of life for people on dialysis can be difficult for them and their families.
In summary, EHIC covers standard dialysis requirements and enables people to travel in a way that supports their very challenging condition. There are no insurance policies which cover the cost of dialysis treatment itself, so if there are no reciprocal healthcare arrangements next year travel will be severely restricted for people on dialysis. Costs per session are 250-450 euros three times a week and missing treatments is dangerous.
The latest government advice is on the government website which states that "It's particularly important you get travel insurance with the right cover if you have a pre-existing medical condition. This is because the EHIC scheme covers pre-existing conditions, while many travel insurance policies do not". But because there is no travel insurance available there is a problem. We keep an updated page on our website about the impact of Brexit on kidney patients.
We would like the Government to develop a contingency plan that would rapidly establish reciprocal health care agreements either with the EU as a whole or with individual Member States. Patients have told us many times that they want to see this resolved.
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