Kidney Care UK Brexit campaign

From 2016 to 2020, we worked to ensure that kidney patients from the UK would still be able to access free, reciprocal dialysis treatment when travelling in Europe.

Following the Brexit referendum in 2016, we identified that the loss of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) would lead to 30,000 people with kidney failure and on dialysis not being able to travel to Europe.

Previously, using the European Health Insurance card (EHIC), if people on dialysis travelled to Europe, they were able to book state-funded dialysis sessions in advance – the only way they were able to receive their treatment while in Europe.

Travel insurance policies don’t cover dialysis so the only alternative was for patients to pay up to £1,000 per week for their treatment, with costs fluctuating in different countries.

Working with the kidney community, the Kidney Care UK Policy team:

  • Asked you to write to your MP to inform decision makers by demonstrating the strength of patient feeling around the campaign, asking them to share these communications with us so we could track impact and follow up with potential MP champions.
  • Wrote directly to MPs highlighting the concerns of patients which led to parliamentary questions about EHIC and the future of reciprocal healthcare at Westminster. Our campaign was cited in the House of Lords and House of Commons during the debate around the Reciprocal and Cross-Border Healthcare (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
  • Took part in regular Department of Health and Social Care meetings and calls throughout the transition period. We were a consistent patient group participating in the discussions and always asking about EHIC.
  • Regularly countered misinformation which suggested that dialysis could be covered by insurance policies. This would not be viable as pre-existing conditions are not covered by travel insurance, but this misplaced argument was often used to suggest that loss of EHIC would not be an issue for patients.
  • Highlighted patients’ concerns clearly and concisely to multiple audiences through our website, social media channels, and through the media.
  • Worked closely with the Brexit Health Alliance who highlighted the complex needs of kidney patients within their own messaging.
  • Worked with the University of Sheffield to provide research on the impact of Brexit on people on dialysis.
  • Gave verbal evidence on the impact of Brexit in 2017, 2018 and 2020 to the House of Lords Enquiry, and also to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Access to Medicines and Medical Devices.

Reciprocal healthcare for dialysis patients secured

In December 2020 the Government published the UK-EU Trade And Cooperation Agreement and on 11 January 2021 launched the EHIC replacement – Global Health Insurance Card or GHIC – with reciprocal healthcare for dialysis patients included!

On behalf of kidney patients across the country we were thrilled after such a lengthy campaign to achieve the key objective of retaining the rights of kidney patients in receiving their dialysis care while travelling in the EU.

It's quite something that the full Brexit withdrawal agreement includes dialysis as an example of treatments which can be covered.

Kidney Care UK would like to thank all of you who got involved with the campaign to ensure that the travel needs of kidney patients were not forgotten. It really makes a difference.

The success of this campaign was praised in a January 2021 letter from Edward Argar MP, the Minister of State for Health with responsibility for EHIC, to Kidney Care UK Policy Director Fiona Loud.

I would like to reiterate my thanks to you and your team for the constructive engagement and support you have provided my officials in DHSC over the past few months, and in particular on the arrangements to cover people for ongoing treatment. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure the needs of kidney dialysis patients continue to be recognised and met.
Edward Argar MP, Minister of State for Health

In 2021, Kidney Care UK won the Communique Charitable campaign of the year for this work.

We continue to work with the DHSC on GHIC-related matters as some dialysis units may not be up to date with the latest guidance. Certain countries were not originally part of the withdrawal agreement but some of them are now included, for example Switzerland.