A senior UK government official has said that an agreement on reciprocal healthcare has largely been reached with the European Union (EU).

Theo Rycroft, head of EU Exit Strategy at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), told a conference organised by the UK in Changing EU, today:

We are within touching distance of a broad agreement with the EU to protect the right to reciprocal healthcare.

In August, the EU agreed to allow British citizens living in an EU country to retain access to the EHIC health insurance card after Brexit.

Under the EHIC scheme, British tourists and residents in the EU are able to access free healthcare, as are EU citizens visiting the UK.

Some 27m EHIC cards have been issued in the UK.

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By GlobalData

Brexit secretary David Davis said at the time:

Both sides have agreed… that we should at least protect existing health care rights and arrangements for EU27 citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU — the [current] EHIC arrangements.

That is good news for example, for British pensioners in the EU: it means that they will continue to have their health care arrangements protected both where they live and — when they travel to another Member State — to be able to use an EHIC card.

However this assurance only applies to British citizens who live in another EU country or EU citizens who live in the UK on March 29 2019.

After that date, for EU citizens wishing to travel to the UK or UK citizens wishing to travel to the EU, it is unclear whether access to the EHIC scheme will be guaranteed.

“Patients stand to lose out dramatically if UK nationals travelling to and living in the EU are no longer able to benefit from free healthcare and EU citizens will also lose out by not being able to get free healthcare here,” said NHS chief executive Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance.

A report published last month by the Brexit Healthcare Alliance warned that a so-called no-deal scenario could end up costing the NHS as much as £500m a year.

The next UK parliamentary oral evidence session on reciprocal healthcare will take place on 15 November.