UK promises healthcare funding for residents in Spain until end of 2020

British residents sign a petition against Brexit in Malaga.
British residents sign a petition against Brexit in Malaga. / MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ
  • The Health Secretary's pledge of six months of funding for pensioners in the EU sparked outrage in Spain on Monday, as the British embassy in Madrid was quick to clarify an extended term for Spain

UK nationals resident in Spain have been reassured by the British government that the UK will continue to fund their healthcare until at least the end of December 2020, whether or not the country leaves the EU with a deal.

The pledge, which applies to pensioners with S1 forms and others for whom the British government funds their use of the Spanish health service, came shortly after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the care would be covered for just six months after the UK's exit on 31 October for Brits in the EU.

This caused outrage and indignation among residents in Spain, especially after Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay had promised that citizens' rights were a priority during his meetings with residents' groups in Madrid on Thursday last week.

Clarifying that the six-month offer applied across the EU and that special arrangements had not been finalised in some countries, the government said that residents in Spain would most probably not need to use the offer, as the funding will be provided here for 14 months.

In the case of a no-deal exit from the EU, British government sources said that this period will be used to establish a mutual long-term agreement with Spain to allow access to healthcare to continue indefinitely.

In March Spain passed a Royal Decree to preserve the rights of British citizens and businesses in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

This, however, came with the condition that the British government reciprocate the commitment with regard to Spanish residents in the UK. The Royal Decree states that the services would be suspended if the UK hadn't passed equivalent legislation within two months of its exit.

"The necessary legal steps have been taken in the UK to ensure both the conditions set out in the Spanish Royal Decree are met if there's no deal," said the British government in a message to the Brexpats in Spain organisation this week.

It is not clear, however, whether Spain will accept the steps the UK says it has made at different levels of government as "equivalent", or whether it demands a similar single piece of legislation to the Royal Decree passed in Madrid.

The promise of healthcare funding until the end of 2020 also applies to students who start their courses in Spain before 31 October, to workers posted in Spain whose healthcare is paid for by the UK and to EHIC cards used by tourists.