LONDON — The return of 190,000 pensioners from abroad could cost the NHS an extra £1 billion a year if the UK fails to get a Brexit deal allowing its migrants to stay in Europe, according to a think tank.
Under the European Union’s S1 programme, the Department of Health pays around £500 million to other countries to cover the pensioners’ care costs abroad.
“However, the costs of ending the S1 scheme could be considerably higher,” Mark Dayan, an analyst at the Nuffield Trust, said in a report published on Wednesday.
“If British pensioners lost their health care cover in EU states and had to return to the UK in get the care they need, the extra annual costs to the NHS could amount to as much as £1 billion every year,” said Dayan.
“There is also the possibility that this might be the tip of the iceberg. While precise estimates vary, there are a total of around one million UK citizens resident in the EU. If the next government fails to secure a deal to allow them to retain the rights they currently hold, the NHS will need to care for all those forced by law or circumstances to return,” he said.
The Nuffield Trust estimated that ending the S1 programme would see the NHS need 900 more hospital beds and 1,600 more nurses, which is roughly equivalent to two new hospitals the size of St Mary’s Hospital in London.
On Tuesday, the Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt, said the outcome of the Brexit negotiations would decide the strength of the economy and how much money the government had to spend on the NHS.
“Everyone cares passionately about the NHS. They also know there’s not a magic money tree and in the end the Brexit negotiations will determine whether our economy stays strong and we can carry on putting more money into the NHS, which is what people want,” Hunt told the Independent in an interview on Tuesday.
Here’s the chart from the Nuffield Trust, which shows an estimated impact on NHS funding from Brexit:
A Conservative party spokesman told the BBC that maintaining the rights of UK nationals in the EU was “one of our first priorities for the Brexit negotiations.” Meanwhile Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday said that no Brexit deal was better than a bad deal.