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Citizens’ rights body has recommended changes to health insurance card process

Published: 14 May, 2021

The IMA has published its first early case resolution following several complaints from EU citizens about delays and uncertainty in obtaining health insurance cards.

The Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA) has the right to take action when it thinks that there are systemic issues which are affecting how the rights of EU citizens are being upheld by public bodies.

Following Brexit, citizens from the 27 EU countries and the EEA EFTA countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway living in the UK have to apply for UK-issued European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) to ensure they have valid health insurance when they travel in the EU.

Earlier this year the number of people applying for the new UK EHICs appears to have overwhelmed the system with significant backlogs potentially resulting in difficulties for these citizens in accessing healthcare.

Citizens also reported that communication about the delay was reactive and mostly via social media leaving many uncertain about what was happening with their application.

The IMA wrote to both the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) about our concerns that citizens were experiencing difficulty in being able to obtain a health insurance card which could lead to issues for them if left the UK and then travelled to the EU and needed medical care.

As a result of our correspondence, DHSC and NHSBSA have agreed to implement a number of changes, the majority of which have now been completed.

These were to:

  • Add information about processing delays to the NHS.uk website to help manage expectations until the backlog is reduced.
  • Strengthen information about what to do whilst waiting for your EHIC including applying for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC), if eligible, on the NHS.uk website.
  • Continue to issue proactive statements on social media sites should delays occur.
  • Add a message to the automated telephone system used for telephone applications to advise about the delays.

The NHSBSA has also advised of its plan to deal with the backlog of applications.

Chief Executive of the IMA, Dr Kathryn Chamberlain said:

“This is an important milestone for the IMA and one that I hope will make a real difference to the lives of EU citizens living in the UK. We are clear public bodies should be protecting the rights of citizens and where we see problems we will not hesitate to act.

“I am pleased that the DHSC and NHSBSA were responsive to our recommendations and note that the majority of changes have already been put in place. Where possible we will always try to work with public bodies to make changes needed as this will be the quickest way of making a difference to people’s lives.”

The IMA has informed those who made a complaint of this early case resolution of the outcomes and will continue to monitor the new UK EHIC application process for the next six months and provide a further update at that time.