Britain’s social care crisis will escalate after Brexit as tens of thousands of pensioners living in the EU return home, cabinet ministers have been warned.
Failure to secure continued access to healthcare for elderly Britons based on the Continent could trigger many to move back to the UK, ministers were told.
Such a change would pile pressure on the NHS and increase demand on care homes that are already under strain from an aging population.
The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that the warnings were made during a private meeting at a Brexit cabinet sub-committee on Wednesday afternoon.
A Government source said: “While we hope and expect to reach a deal, the Government wants to make sure they cover every precaution.
“There is a question about whether the NHS could cope with the strain of a large-scale return of pensioners from the EU.”
“Cabinet ministers were warned about it by government officials. They didn’t say it would happen, but they said it was something that should be avoided.”
More than half a million British pensioners live in EU countries outside the UK, with most based in Ireland, followed by Spain, France, Italy and Germany.
Theresa May has insisted she will not guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK unless those Britons in the EU are also given assurances.
Both Number 10 and Brussels has said securing a deal on this is a priority for the talks, which will be triggered next Wednesday and last for two weeks.
However ministers have warned that the issue is far more complicated than assumed by those demanding a guarantee in recent months.
A source familiar with the discussions said: “There are concerns about the potential costs to social care and the NHS in general. It is an area ministers are looking at seriously.”
Earlier this month the Government announced an extra £2.5 billion in spending on social care amid growing concerns of a funding “black hole”.
However councils said more money was needed in the coming years as Britons continue to live longer than previous decades.
The UK Government currently helps cover the cost of health care incurred by the Britons living abroad.
However ministers said that social care costs more in the UK than in EU countries where lots of elderly Britons live like Spain.
“It is becoming increasingly less worthwhile to run a care home in some parts of the world,” said a senior Government source.
“Right across the country there is already a growing shortage of residential care. That is where the pressures would come. It is not simply a question of cost, it is also a question of actual capacity.”
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, acknowledged the challenge an aging population was putting on social care during his Budget speech this month,
Today, our social care system cares for over a million people and I pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of carers, who work in it,” Mr Hammond said.
“But the system is clearly under pressure. And this in turn puts pressure on our NHS. Today, there are half a million more people aged over 75 than there were in 2010. And there will be 2 million more in ten years’ time.”