Britain is in talks with Australia, New Zealand and Israel to give holidaymakers free healthcare when they are abroad as part of a post-Brexit scheme for travellers.
The Sunday Telegraph understands ministers are negotiating to extend the successor of the EU Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to a number of countries outside the bloc.
The talks, which are being spearheaded by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, are the first steps towards the Government’s ambition to give British travellers basic health protection across the globe.
Whitehall sources hailed the initiative as an example of the Brexit dividend, showcasing how Britain is able to reap benefits from striking its own global deals.
‘Another fantastic Brexit benefit’
A senior government source said: “Sajid wants Brits to be able to travel around the world safe in the knowledge that the UK has ensured healthcare arrangements are in place globally. This is another fantastic Brexit benefit.”
The move comes as the next step after the UK negotiated to preserve the healthcare coverage of British travellers who held the EHIC.
The card entitled holders to state-provided medical care if they fell ill in any EU country as well as in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
It covered pre-existing medical conditions and maternity care as well as emergency and acute care.
The cards also provided reciprocal cover for EU citizens visiting the UK.
A deal struck in December 2020 by the Government with the bloc extended the 27 million UK holders’ cover till after their cards had expired.
It allows British citizens to now replace their outdated EHIC cards with a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which lends the same coverage in EU countries.
Government has begun negotiations
Ministers have already signed a deal with Switzerland to extend GHIC coverage there and are negotiating with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the Government has begun negotiations with Australia, New Zealand and Israel to extend reciprocal GHIC coverage in those countries.
The three nations have health systems that are largely compatible with the NHS.
Whitehall sources said that the Department for Health is also assessing a range of other countries and territories for their suitability, and that Mr Javid has asked civil servants to explore opportunities with key allies in East Asia.
The major provinces of Canada, where healthcare is devolved, are also being considered for future expansion of the scheme.