The government has pledged £150m to temporarily cover the healthcare costs of 180,000 British nationals living in the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said workers posted to the bloc, plus pensioners and students, who can currently have their healthcare funded by the UK under existing reciprocal arrangements, would continue to be covered for six months after a crash out.
The government will also pay the treatment costs of UK tourists if they began their holiday before the UK leaves the EU.
“Protecting the healthcare rights of UK nationals is a priority of this government,” said Hancock.
However, the move was met with anger by campaign groups. Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain, the country where the largest cohort of pensioners live, said: “They keep making these announcements and they seem to think they will provide reassurance. But they are time-limited and therefore have the opposite effect – people will ask what happens after six months.
“What we need is reassurance that our rights do not change regardless. That is what the leave campaign promised, that’s what Michael Gove promised and it’s clear every time they make one of these statements that is not the case.”
Jeremy Morgan, vice-chair of British in Europe, said the government’s plea to Britons to sort out healthcare if the NHS cover disappears was “another massive let down” for UK pensioners in the EU.
“The government is urging them to ‘act now to secure access to healthcare’ as if it were as simple as ordering coffee in a restaurant,” he said.
“People won’t get private health insurance if they have existing conditions, and in those countries where it is possible to join a national scheme the cost is simply unaffordable for someone living on the state pension – worth 20% less in euros as a result of Brexit”
arlier this year, the government pledged to cover the costs of healthcare for up to 12 months for all British citizens in the EU who had started treatment before exit day. The new pledge will extend healthcare costs for new conditions and treatments that begin afterwards.
An estimated 1 million Britons live in the EU, but the majority are earners and pay into EU member state health systems through tax or a combination of tax and insurance, so should remain covered in the event of no deal.
The government announcement covers Britons in the bloc who are retired, students, employees of UK companies or on holiday when Brexit happens.