Annual report on the cost of healthcare arrangements

Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

‘(1) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an annual report setting out all expenditure and income arising from each healthcare arrangement made under this Act.

(2) The annual report laid under subsection 1 must include, but is not limited to—

(a) all payments made by the government of the United Kingdom in respect of healthcare arrangements for healthcare provided outside the United Kingdom to British citizens;

(b) all payments received by the government of the United Kingdom in reimbursement of healthcare provided by the United Kingdom to all non-British citizens;

(c) the number of British citizens treated under healthcare arrangements outside the United Kingdom;

(d) the number of non-British citizens treated under healthcare arrangements within the United Kingdom;

(e) any and all outstanding payments owed to or by the government of the United Kingdom in respect of healthcare arrangements made before this Act receives Royal Assent; and

(f) any and all administrative costs faced by NHS Trusts in respect of healthcare arrangements.

(3) The information required under section 2(a) and 2(b) above must be listed by individual country in every annual report.’—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Julie Cooper Julie Cooper Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) (Community Health)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I should stress that we support the intention of the Bill. Providing that UK citizens can live, work, study and travel in EU member states with complete peace of mind with regard to the provision of healthcare is a priority for us. We are aware that, under existing arrangements, the healthcare of 190,000 UK state pensioners living abroad, principally in Ireland, Spain, France and Cyprus, and of their dependent relatives, is protected.

In addition, we seek to ensure that the health benefits currently enjoyed by UK residents who visit the EU on holiday or to study continue, so that they may use the European health insurance card to access healthcare and emergency treatment for healthcare needs that arise during their stay. We also seek to continue the arrangement under which EU nationals receive reciprocal provision when they visit the UK post Brexit.

We note, however, that the Bill is intended to provide for all reciprocal healthcare arrangements in the future, even though we still do not know—even at this late stage, two and a half years after the referendum—whether a satisfactory Brexit deal will be approved by the UK Parliament. Given the possibility of a no deal scenario, where the UK crashes out of the EU and potentially enters a period of unprecedented uncertainty, we are extremely concerned.

We understand and support the Government’s preferred policy position with regard to future reciprocal healthcare agreements, where the intention is to seek a wider agreement with the EU that covers state pensioners retiring to the EU or UK and allows for continued participation in the European health insurance card scheme, together with planned medical treatment. We want to ensure, however, that appropriate safeguards are in place with regard to costs, not least because the Bill provides the authority for the Secretary of State not only to facilitate a continuation of existing arrangements, but to enter into any number of bilateral agreements with individual member states, with no provision for parliamentary scrutiny.

We also note that the Bill provides the authority to strengthen existing reciprocal healthcare agreements with countries outside the EU, or to implement new ones with countries across the globe, in line with the Government’s aspiration to develop trading arrangements with countries beyond the EU. There is, therefore, the potential for the establishment of multiple complex agreements.

As it is not possible to know the detail of those agreements in advance, we cannot assess their likely cost implications. We therefore believe that the Government’s impact assessment is woefully inadequate in that regard. The assessment suggests that the cost of establishing a future reciprocal healthcare arrangement would be £630 million per year, which is the same as the current agreement and takes no account of inflation or future medical developments. The impact assessment’s suggestion that costs might actually be less than those we already incur is not credible.

We will be in uncharted waters, facing the prospect of the necessity to negotiate multiple agreements, some of which may be complex. As the former Secretary of State said,

“It is perfectly possible to agree the continuation of reciprocal healthcare rights as they currently exist, but it is not possible to predict the outcome of the negotiations.”

We agree that it is impossible to provide reliable estimations of likely costs in advance. We are therefore not prepared to give the Government carte blanche.

New clause 1 would provide a sensible requirement for the Government to report back to Parliament on an annual basis. Subsection 2(a) would require the Government to provide details of all payments made by the UK Government for healthcare provided outside the UK to British citizens. Subsection 2(b) would stipulate a requirement to provide details of all payments received by the UK Government in reimbursement of healthcare provided by the UK to all non-British citizens. Subsections (c) and (d) are straightforward and would require details of the numbers of citizens treated under reciprocal arrangements. Subsection 2(e) would write into law a requirement to report on all outstanding payments owed to or by the UK Government.

The Bill provides an opportunity to monitor efficiency in this area and may provide an incentive to address the concerns raised by the Public Accounts Committee in its 2017 report, “NHS treatment for overseas patients”. It stated,

“the NHS has been recovering much less than it should”,

and,

“The systems for cost recovery appear chaotic.”

That is not good enough and we would not want to see that poor level of performance replicated as a result of any new reciprocal agreements.

Currently, the Public Accounts Committee reports that there is no evidence that EU reciprocal health arrangements are being abused. However, there is an increased risk of poor performance on collection targets if there are multiple future arrangements with differential terms. Subsection 2(e) will enable ongoing parliamentary scrutiny of performance levels. While respecting that urgent medical care is provided to any patient who needs it, the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care must always ensure that money due to the NHS is recovered. We need a system that is fair to taxpayers and to patients who are entitled to free care either by virtue of being a British citizen or under a reciprocal agreement.

It is clear that, even under current arrangements, the collection of moneys owed for healthcare provided to foreign nationals, together with the administration of existing reciprocal healthcare agreements, is an onerous task for hospital trusts. As we leave the EU, it might be necessary for the UK to enter into multiple complex arrangements on a bilateral basis. Indeed, the Bill gives powers to the Secretary of State to enter into any number of agreements, which would introduce additional considerable financial burdens on hospital trusts whose duty it will be to administer the collection of charges for NHS services provided to foreign nationals who retire to the UK or who visit the UK under future reciprocal arrangements. It is likely to be a more onerous process as a series of differential arrangements might be required. The BMA and the Royal College of Paediatrics both agree that, should it be necessary to establish bilateral reciprocal arrangements with EU nations, significant additional costs would fall on the NHS.

Subsection 2(f) would introduce a requirement for the Government to report the detail of all costs incurred by hospital trusts in the pursuance of that duty. Cuts to real-terms NHS funding since 2010, together with increased demand, have pushed many NHS hospital trusts into deficit positions. The NHS is underfunded and understaffed, and hospitals face all-year-round crises. It is therefore imperative that hospital trusts are not required to shoulder additional financial burdens because of the costs of administering the collection of charges. It is absolutely essential that all agreements reached within the remit of the Bill do not direct funds for the treatment of patients to administration.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Wendy Morton.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.