Annette King: PM's response to UK health surcharge 'disappointing'

  • 07/02/2016
Labour health spokesperson Annette King (File)
Labour health spokesperson Annette King (File)

Labour health spokesperson Annette King is disappointed in the Prime Minister's lack of action on a deal that leaves Kiwis stung with a healthcare surcharge when in the United Kingdom.

Since 1982, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have had an agreement that Kiwis travelling in the UK can access medical or dental treatment at the same cost as British citizens, and vice-versa.

Last year the UK toughened the rules to make most visitors from outside the EU pay 150 percent of the cost of ongoing treatment in an effort to clamp down on "health tourism".

A health surcharge of around $440 was also imposed on visa applications for non-EU visitors but New Zealand was exempt because of our mutual agreement. Doctors' visits and Accident and Emergency remained free. But that is no longer.

The new cost of $440 will only apply to those who stay six months or longer, meaning those on a visitor's visa will still be liable to any fees relating to treatment they may receive.

Yesterday, John Key said he was disappointed with the decision.

"We've also got a lower rate than other countries, so down from £200 to £150, but at the end of it, it's just another sort of chipping away of New Zealanders rights in the UK and its really disappointing," he said.

"I think we have had this relationship based on the history of our country being a British colony, and I would have thought charging Kiwis £150, if they're over there a bit longer, is a surcharge over and above the National Health System's, [is] not really keeping with the history of the two countries."

However, Ms King says "this is a big deal for many, many New Zealanders" and Mr Key could have done more to stop the agreement from going through.

"The Prime Minister might be disappointed, but has he picked up the phone and called [British] Prime Minister David Cameron because it's a reciprocal agreement. That means it applies in the UK and we reciprocate by providing health care to UK citizens in New Zealand," she told Newshub.

"It was a negotiated contract in 1982, so my question is, what has our Government, our Prime Minister, done in terms of trying to prevent this happening? Because you don't make a deal that's reciprocal and then have them unilaterally change it."

Ms King says the deal signifies a "slow erosion" of the "strong relationship that we're told we have with the UK".

"I would image if they are going to put barriers in place that have been decided without agreement from New Zealand we have to put some like measures in place and I think that would be a terrible shame," she says.

"Only three days ago it was meant to be a review, and today we see it was implemented, so I would think the Prime Minister needs to take this seriously."

The rule also doesn’t apply to Kiwis who need emergency medical attention that cannot wait until they return to New Zealand. This will still come at no cost.

Young New Zealanders between the age of 18 and 30, who have applied for the Youth Mobility Scheme will be given a discounted rate of NZ$330 per year which aligns with student costs in the UK, but this is on top of the $490 visa application and proof of $4140 in savings, leaving a total of $4960 needed to begin living in London.