One of our very favourite No-campaign scare stories of the year was the Huffington Post’s “Vote Yes And You’ll Die Of Cancer”. But if Scotland chooses independence in 2014, will it actually affect our healthcare? After all, we’ve already noted how NHS Scotland has been independent since inception (and why we need a Yes vote in order to provide it with a stable funding base that won’t be cut out from under it via the effect of Barnett consequentials under Westminster austerity).
But it’s also worth examining how it would work in practice. What about if we travel to the rUK or in Europe? What about the cross-border co-operation that currently characterises the relationship between the UK’s two health services? Would we still be able to be treated in an English hospital if we vote for independence? Let’s find out.
To answer the question we need to look at what happens now. It’s not only the citizens of the UK who can get free medical care on the NHS – anyone who falls ill here will be provided with emergency medical care. Citizens of European Economic Area (EEA) nations, however, also receive additional healthcare, as do those of other countries with which the UK has reciprocal arrangements. This arrangement is facilitated through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
EHIC is issued free of charge and allows anyone who is insured by or covered by a statutory social-security scheme of the EEA countries (and Switzerland through a different agreement) to receive medical treatment in another member state for free or at a reduced cost, if that treatment becomes necessary during their visit (for example, due to illness or an accident), or if they have a chronic pre-existing condition which requires regular care, such as kidney dialysis.
The intention of the scheme is to allow people to continue their stay in a country without having to return home for medical care; as such, it doesn’t cover people who have visited a country for the specific purpose of obtaining medical care, nor does it cover care – such as many types of dental treatment – which can be delayed until the visitor returns home. It only covers healthcare which is normally covered by a statutory healthcare system in the visited country, or it would render travel insurance obsolete.
The net result is that if Scotland becomes independent there’ll very little effect on the provision of services as they are today. This only remains the case if the rUK is also within the EU, of course, though even if some sort of unholy Tory/UKIP alliance saw the rUK leave, it’s highly unlikely that it would give up access to the EEA – the world’s largest free-trade zone – and would endeavour to remain within the agreement through another means (possibly via membership of EFTA).
But not for the first time, the only real potential danger to the future of the Scottish people’s health lies in remaining within the United Kingdom, not in leaving it.