British passport holders residing in Thailand and some other countries are holding their breath to see if they can use the National Health Service (NHS) if they return to UK. At the moment, they lose the right to free healthcare even if they have paid national insurance contributions all their working life.
But a government-sponsored public inquiry last year came up with the recommendation that expats should be able to take advantage of NHS facilities, long or short term, provided they paid at least seven years national insurance during their working life. According to Tax-News, an online forum, the basic recommendation has been accepted by the government, but the minimum number of contributions has not yet been determined. Final details are expected later this year.
The new discretion seems to fly in the face of other developments which have worsened the plight of expats. In Thailand and most other countries, the British old age pension is frozen and not increased in line with UK inflation. It was even mooted last month that expats might even lose the personal allowance to reduce their UK tax payments – though the government stressed this was no more than a suggestion at present.
The matter of whether British expats will soon enjoy canceled health benefits if they return to UK is being especially watched in Thailand which has a large number of elderly Brits. Many of them arrived here when the pound was much stronger and Thai hospital bills have increased substantially, especially in the private sector.
An allied problem is that many expats find that their age or pre-existing medical conditions prevent them from purchasing local or international insurance. Even those with insurance find that the sharp rises in annual premiums, especially for those in their seventies, force cancellation sooner rather than later.
A spokesman for a leading insurer told Pattaya Today, “This move in UK to relax the eligibility rules will come as a great relief to many British expats, especially as they get older. Although Thai hospital costs are still cheap by worldwide standards, a stay in hospital of a week can still cost one million baht or even more if new technology is substantially involved.”
The British government has announced that some of the extra costs can be recouped by requiring that immigrants to UK, both inside and outside the European Union, to make financial contributions to the NHS before accessing any services. At present anyone who is “ordinarily resident” in UK can claim NHS treatment, a category which appears to cover some health tourists and recent immigrant arrivals.