Expat pensioners returning to the UK after Brexit for medical treatment could cost the NHS an extra £500m a year, a think tank has warned.
Unless a deal to allow tens of thousands of British expat retirees to continue receiving treatment abroad is reached, their medical costs could double from £500m a year to £1bn, the Nuffield Trust said.
Presently the UK gives around £500m a year to EU countries to cover the medical bills of 190,000 expat pensioners.
The warning came as health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the NHS could be damaged if “Brexit goes wrong”.
The Nuffield Trust estimated that if no heath care deal was reached the NHS would need 1,600 extra doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff to provide for the returning retirees.
The trust said the NHS risks being short staffed if migration from the EU slows down or stops and that access to medicines could also be impeded if the UK leaves the EU’s pharmaceutical licensing system.
However the trust said there could also be some gains for the NHS from leaving the EU, such as not having to pay membership fees.
Nuffield Trust spokesman Mark Dayan said: “It is possible that extra funds could be found for the NHS from any cancellation of Britain’s EU membership fees.
“But whether or not these benefits will outweigh the significant staffing and financial costs Brexit may impose on already stretched services remains to be seen.
“That depends largely on the NHS being recognised as a significant priority as we enter some of the most important negotiations in Britain’s history.”
Meanwhile health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the i newspaper that the Tories would not be able to deliver extra NHS staff if “Brexit goes wrong”.
He said: “We’ve increased doctor training places… so the only thing that could upset that is if Brexit goes wrong and we don’t have the resources to put into it, but that’s what we want to do.”
The Royal College of GPs also warned that patient care must not take a “back seat to Brexit” during the general election. The college said to ensure patient safety the rights of EU healthcare workers need to be guaranteed and reforms to general practice delivered.