The public will have reason to cheer the government’s line this morning that it is to deny EU migrants from Romania and Bulgaria access to the NHS immediately on arrival. EU law, however, says otherwise.
Not to be the voice of doom and gloom, but the government’s position could fall foul of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Article 35 gives all EU citizens the right to healthcare in the nation state in which they reside. The caveat of “national laws and practices” could be interpreted in two ways. The first is that the government could ban new migrants from using the NHS. Of course this would run counter to Article 21 provisions that force EU governments to treat all EU citizens equally.
The second interpretation could be that as the NHS provides treatment for all, then we have an international health service as a result of our EU membership.
Our EU membership means the European Court of Justice will decide the right interpretation, not our own parliament.
Secondly, later this year the EU Directive on Cross Border Healthcare comes into force. This allows for patients to shop around for healthcare, with the costs paid by the member state the patient is travelling from. This will obviously put strains on our health service, not so much in terms of costs, but of sheer quantity. If you can get better treatment in the UK, you’ll travel for it as opposed to substandard care in your own country.
For the government to present a picture that the NHS is safe is far from the truth. In reality our EU membership will make things very difficult for the NHS in the future.