Access to healthcare
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Access to healthcare

  • Monday, 16 March 2009 16:42
  • Last Updated Tuesday, 06 December 2011 00:29

The standard of healthcare and its provision varies greatly throughout the world, not only between countries but also within countries. For example, patients staying within an urbanised area of a developed country may well be able to access a wide range of healthcare services (possibly at a cost). However, if the destination is to a remote location, even within a developed country, then healthcare provision may be very basic. An important part of planning a journey abroad is to ascertain the level of healthcare services available. The relevant High Commission, Embassy or Consulate will be able to provide details.

The level of emergency medical cover available to UK citizens abroad varies but is essentially of three types:

  • European Economic Area (EEA) Countries allow UK residents to access state provided medical treatment on production of a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Such treatment may not include all that would be expected free of charge from the NHS in the UK and as such a financial contribution to care received may be required (it may be necessary to pay part or all the cost, then claim a full or partial refund). The EHIC does not provide cover if the purpose of the trip is to obtain medical treatment (form E112 will be required). The EHIC does not negate the need for comprehensive travel insurance.

  • Reciprocal Agreement Countries are those countries outside the EEA that have reciprocal agreements with the UK for the provision of emergency medical cover.

  • Countries with no Healthcare Agreements with the UK include most of countries in the world, including Canada, India, United States of America, all countries in the Middle East and Africa

The Department of Health booklet “Health Advice for Travellers” is widely available at Post Offices and travel agents. It provides details on how to access health care when abroad and how to obtain a EHIC (and form E112); an updated version can be found on their website (

Because our healthcare system is largely “free at the point of delivery”, it is easy for UK citizens to underestimate the financial costs accrued when receiving medical treatment whilst abroad. Even within countries that have a reciprocal agreement with the UK, costs can run into thousands of pounds for treatment received. Costs can escalate dramatically if the services of an air ambulance are required (in excess of £30,000 from USA, up to £12,000 from the Balearics). If death occurs whilst the patient is abroad, the family are expected to meet the costs of repatriation. Therefore, comprehensive travel insurance is strongly recommended for those patients who wish to travel abroad.



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