When you return from a long stint abroad, you’ll be relieved to return to the comfort of the NHS. If you’ve been living in a region with poor infrastructure, you’ll be more grateful than ever to access free treatment.
But did you know that changes to the law may affect your ability to access the NHS?
In 2016, legislation was introduced that affects a returning traveller’s access to NHS inpatient or long-term care. Now, several criteria must be fulfilled to receive that type of care. This applies to all British citizens and other nationals.
Why does this rule exist?
The UK’s healthcare system is residence-based. This means that access to healthcare is based on living lawfully in the UK. This differs to insurance-based systems in countries such as the USA.
‘Ordinary residence’ means that a person normally lives in the UK, and it’s different to other types of residence that can apply to immigrants with settled status. Having a British passport or being a British citizen does not automatically mean you are ordinarily resident – you must be living lawfully in the UK and considered settled there.
Nationals from other countries can still be considered ordinarily resident in the UK (although non-EEA nationals must have indefinite leave to remain). You can still be eligible if you are living in the UK short term. You can be ordinarily resident in more than one country.
The only people who cannot be ordinarily resident are those in breach of immigration rules and people in prison.
Before 2016, all returning UK travellers could access free NHS treatment no matter how long they had lived abroad. Now, as they must be considered ordinarily resident, it can take months to be eligible to access the NHS.
How can returning travellers get NHS healthcare?
Now, to access free NHS healthcare, returning travellers must prove that they have returned to the UK with the intention of living there. They must meet the ordinary residence test.
The government recommends that UK nationals bring two supporting documents with them the first time they attempt to access the NHS again. The documents can be proof of property ownership or a tenancy agreement in the UK, a recent utility or council tax bill or a UK bank statement with recent UK activity.
Evidence of employment (or Jobseeker’s Allowance) in the UK is also considered proof of ordinary residence. This can include payslips, bank statements, a letter from your employer or the job centre, or your unique tax reference number. Documents that prove you no longer live abroad can also be used. This could be evidence that you have terminated your employment in another country, moved assets back to the UK or ended any utility contracts.
It is important to note that there is no minimum period that confers ordinary residence. The Department of Health suggests that a person who has lived in the UK for less than six months is unlikely to meet the criteria, however this is not a hard and fast rule.
What if it’s an emergency?
Anyone experiencing a medical emergency should go straight to their nearest A&E department. It is always free to attend an A&E department, however you could be liable to pay for any ongoing hospital care you receive as a result of your visit.
How can Salt help?
Our travel insurance policies can be extended to ensure that you are covered when you re-enter the country. This means you can access the healthcare you need without being saddled with a hefty bill.
Salt can offer an extension to the Medical Emergency Section of up to £50,000 NHS cost (subject to a £100 policy excess) to ensure returning travellers are covered in these circumstances.
The recent outbreak of coronavirus shows how easily illness can go undetected in travellers. The risk of becoming ill after re-entering the UK is not a new one. Malaria, for instance, is known to have a lengthy incubation period of 30 days.
Given these risks, combined with the financial risk, we urge returning travellers to contact us to discuss their cover.