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Technically, the majority of British citizens living abroad are not currently eligible for treatment on the NHS when they are visiting the UK, even if they have made National Insurance contributions for some or all of their working lives. This has long been a big bugbear for the UK expatriate community; however, this could be set to change following a recent consultation by the government.
A government paper commissioned by the Department of Health estimates that 65,000 British expatriates make use of NHS services when they are visiting the UK even though they don’t have the right to do so, at a cost of £90 million to the UK government. Many expats believe that they do have the right to treatment in the UK and the government has admitted that the rules pertaining to British expats living abroad and seeking treatment while in the UK are poorly understood and very difficult to enforce.
In its response to the in-depth consultation on migrant access to the NHS, the Government has admitted that it ‘supports the principle of those who have previously made a fair contribution continuing to be entitled to free NHS treatment and this should be consistent with the principles of ex-pat eligibility for UK pensions and other state benefits.’
It has committed to carrying out further analysis with a view to bringing into force new eligibility rules towards the end of 2014. According to the proposed changes, any expatriate who has previously paid at least seven years of National Insurance contributions in the UK will be eligible for free NHS treatments and prescriptions when visiting the country.
This is undoubtedly good news for expatriates although it certainly does not negate the need to take out comprehensive private medical insurance to cover you and your family while you are living abroad.