EHIC medical treatment for UK nationals travelling in the European Union and Switzerland

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Anyone planning to travel to one of the countries covered should ensure they have an up to date EHIC.  UK residents can apply for a UK issued EHIC via the Department of Health website.  The EHIC is usually valid for 5 years.

The most important thing for those travelling abroad to bear in mind is that the EHIC only entitles the holder to the same State provided treatment as those resident in the country they are visiting.  This means, for example, that if you are travelling to France and need to receive medical treatment, you will only be entitled to the same treatment a French national would receive.

Many European countries require residents to have a form of top-up medical insurance.  The State only meets part of the medical bill, with the remainder being met by the private insurer.   The EHIC is no substitute for good travel insurance.  Not all treatment will necessarily be completely free, as it is under the NHS.  A comprehensive travel insurance policy will ensure you are not left out of pocket for any shortfall in the State medical care provided in another EU country.  Your travel insurer will usually pick up the bill for you, provided full disclosure was given when you purchased the travel policy and subject to the deduction of any policy excess. 

The EHIC scheme will not cover you if you are travelling abroad specifically to receive medical treatment.  It will also not cover the costs of repatriation which may be necessary if you are involved in an accident and need to be flown home by air ambulance.  Repatriation costs can run into thousands of pounds, highlighting again how essential good and comprehensive travel insurance is.

If you are caught without travel insurance and need to receive medical treatment in an EHIC Country then carefully check the hospital or clinic where you are admitted for treatment.  Many EU countries have private hospitals that will admit patients for emergency treatment.  If they are not State funded then the EHIC will not kick in and without travel insurance you could be faced with a significant bill to pay for any treatment received.

Be sure to present your EHIC as soon as you can on admission to hospital, a clinic or doctor.  The NHS website provides additional useful information on a country-by-country basis.

Finally, before leaving the treatment provider, ask for any relevant paperwork detailing the treatment received and the costs involved.  You may even be able to obtain copies of medical records.  This will ease the process of making a claim on your return home. 

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