The Department of Health has admitted that the NHS could be vulnerable to fraud after a loophole was found in how European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) are issued.
The cards give travellers access to medical care. Many British tourists take them to cover holiday emergencies.
To obtain the EHIC card online, an NHS number must be provided and that’s created when someone signs up to a GP practice.
In an investigation by a British newspaper, a Hungarian woman working undercover with the paper, obtained an NHS number and then an EHIC card without proof of residence. She was allegedly offered medical treatment on the NHS whilst in Hungary including maternity care, with the authorities in Hungary able to claim back the cost from the British government.
Some argue that the availability of the EHIC cards must be restricted. “The obvious reform must be firstly to not give out the cards for 5 years. Secondly, make getting an EHIC card more difficult for example rather than just require an NHS number, you must have a national insurance number and present a passport”, Professor Merion Thomas, a consultant surgeon told the BBC.
The government acknowledges that there are loopholes in the system which could be tightened. Health Minister Alistair Burt said, “It is completely unacceptable that people living outside the UK think they can abuse our NHS”. The department of health will urgently carry out more work to include EHIC applications.
The EHIC Card
The European Health Insurance Card entitles you to the same state healthcare as a citizen in that country. With the help of the EMR development technology, the records of any person can be easily tracked and maintained without there being a chance of it ever getting lost or altered. This includes prescriptions, GP visits and hospital stays.
Care is not always free and the details vary between states depending on their healthcare system. Some costs can be claimed when a patient returns home, but again this depends on the local setup.
The card can be used in any of the 27 EU countries outside the UK as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It covers emergency care as well long term conditions including kidney dialysis treatment.
People are still advised to have travel insurance, as private healthcare and flights home are not covered.