Pensioner battling aggressive cancer tells of his fears about living in France after Brexit

A British pensioner battling an aggressive form of cancer has told of his fears for the future over health coverage for Britons in France.

Pensioner battling aggressive cancer tells of his fears about living in France after Brexit
British pensioners are worried about their healthcare. Photo AllaSerebrina/Depositphotos

For John Shaw, 73, who lives in the Lot-et-Garonne region in southwest France, the problem raised by Britain's impending exit from the EU is simple: “It's a matter of life or death!”

Shaw is battling an aggressive case of prostate cancer and takes an anti-hormone drug whose price tag is twice that of his UK pension – and which isn't available in Britain.


His medication is currently covered by the French state under reciprocity agreements between EU member states, but if healthcare isn't covered by a citizens' rights deal when the new Brexit deadline expires on October 31st, he and thousands of other Britons could find their their out-of-pocket costs soaring.

“Our whole attitude towards life has changed because of uncertainty,” he says.

“We've been living in limbo for two-and-a-half years,” Shaw says in a back room at the Floc'n Tea cafe in the small town of Lauzun, which has become a rallying point for Britain's diaspora of pensioners in this picturesque corner of France. 

Shaw also said the long wait to see a specialist was one reason he wouldn't go back to Britain, as well as the cost of treatment.

“In the UK, it is quite common for somebody referred to a cancer clinic to wait for up to 18 months before they get a consultation,” he said.

“Here it would normally happen within two-to-three weeks at the most.”

He said he pays €86 euros a month for top-up insurance that covers most of his treatment costs, including those only partially covered by French social security.

Similar coverage in Britain would probably cost 300 to 400 pounds (€351 to €468) “and it would not cover anything to do with my cancer,” said Shaw.

Some 600,000 retired Britons now live in countries across the EU, official estimates show, often with residency permits that allow them full coverage under local healthcare systems.

Maggie Morton, a 73-year-old who has lived in France for 20 years, said she had just undergone her third operation for knee and hip replacements, describing the treatment as “amazing”.

She thinks British officials are failing to appreciate what's at stake for average citizens.

“The problem is that the people who are at the top of the pile in government in the UK are not ordinary people,” she says at the Floc'n Tea.

“They have five-star treatment.”

Britain's National Health Service (NHS), which has faced a series of staffing and financing crises in recent years, could come under further strain after Brexit, experts warn.

“All forms of Brexit are bad for health,” the Lancet medical journal found in a report in February, which said a no-deal scenario would likely provoke acute shortages of staff and medicines within the NHS.

An estimated 60,000 EU nationals work in the NHS, representing about five percent of its staff of 1.2 million — but whether they will remain in Britain after Brexit is up in the air.

And that makes it even less likely that older Britons living in the EU would want to return home.

Wynne Edwards, 67, said his brother suffered a heart attack in March 2018 but it was months before he saw an expert, dying shortly after. 

“He died on the 4th of December — he only saw a specialist at the end of October!” he told AFP.

Edwards, who moved to Lauzun in 2013, compared his brother's case with that of his wife, who recently became slightly paralysed in her leg.

Doctors immediately ordered an MRI scan exam and she then spent a month in hospital, something that wouldn't have happened so quickly in Britain, he believes.


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France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Visits to the Channel islands from France have halved since Brexit, and French local authorities say they may be forced to cut the regular ferry service, asking for the passport requirement to be waived for French visitors.

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Travel to and from the Channel islands – which are British crown dependancies – has reduced significantly since Brexit, when passports became a requirement for those travelling in and out of the islands and their ports.

Now the president of the local authorities in the Manche département of France has asked that passport requirements be lifted, with hopes of increasing travel to and from the islands.

Jean Morin told Ouest France that there has been a “considerable reduction in the number of passengers on routes between the Channel ports and the islands” and as a result the ferry service between France and the islands was seriously in deficit.

“On these lines, we will never make money, but we cannot be in deficit”, explained the Morin. 

He added that if a solution is not found by the deadline of May 1st, 2023, then local authorities will stop funding the shipping company DNO, which runs the Manche Îles Express ferry service.

“If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025”, Morin told Ouest France.

Only around half of French people have a passport, since the ID card issued to all adults is sufficient to travel within the EU. 

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

DNO re-launched operations in April and since then, the company, and by extension the département – who plays a large role in funding it via a public service delegation – has been losing significant funds.

According to Franceinfo, the number of passengers has been cut in half since passport requirements were introduced. Franceinfo estimates that for one ticket for one passenger costing €30, the département spends €200.

According to Morin, the ideal solution would be to require a simple ID for tourists seeking to take just day-long or weekend-long stays on the islands – which reportedly represents at least 90 percent of the boats’ usual passengers.

“The Jersey government is working hard on the issue and is waiting for an agreement from London and the European Union. There is the possibility that things could move quickly”, Morin told Franceinfo on Tuesday.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, boats going to and from the French mainland carried at least 110,000 people per year. In 2022, only 40,000 passengers made the journey, Olivier Normand, the sales manager of Manche Îles Express, told Actu France.

Normand had expected the decline, however. He told Actu France that the company had taken a survey, which found that almost half (between 40 and 50 percent) of their clientele did not have a passport.