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Brexit ‘won’t affect pilgrimages to Lourdes’

Pilgrim holds a candle as she prays at the grotto at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A pilgrimage director has dismissed claims that pilgrimages to Lourdes will be detrimentally affected by Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

John Tangney, director of Tangney Tours, has said Brexit would have “no discernible effect on sick pilgrims or indeed any pilgrims travelling to Lourdes”.

He was responding to a blog post on this site by Dr Michael Moran, chief medical officer for Down and Connor diocesan pilgrimages to Lourdes and a member of the International Medical Committee of Lourdes.

Dr Moran wrote: “Although not as high impact as millions of pounds dropping from the FTSE, the care of the sick in Lourdes is nonetheless important for those who need it most, and for whom many other foreign holidays are not possible. Pilgrimages to Lourdes are currently dependent on the European Health Insurance Card, which we could stand to lose if we leave the EEA as part of Brexit. If full costs are to be borne for healthcare abroad, Lourdes, for UK pilgrims, is likely to become a domain for the fit, well and wealthy.”

But John Tangney argued that the comments were mistaken.

He said: “The possible withdrawal of the EHIC facility following a Brexit will have no discernible effect on sick pilgrims or indeed any pilgrims travelling to Lourdes.”

Mr Tangney said that his company’s travel insurance policy for pilgrims, which thousands of sick pilgrims took up per year “may increase in cost by £1 or £2 to about £30”.

But he pointed out that the deal includes “almost every pre-existing condition, and also covers those with a terminal diagnosis, with a short prognosis.”

Dr Moran, responding to Mr Tangney, said he “remained concerned”.

He said: “Whilst I appreciate Mr Tangney’s comments in regard to the arrangements that are in place for his own company, I remain concerned that an exit from the EEA and the potential loss of the EHIC arrangement would leave us in a state of uncertainty in regard to health care costs.

“From personal experience, I know the importance of the EHIC arrangements for pilgrims who become acutely unwell in Lourdes, and have had difficult negotiations with insurance companies who were reluctant to pay even the 20 per cent of costs that remained beyond EHIC cover. Health care in France is excellent, but it can be expensive; air ambulances even more so.”

He continued: “I am encouraged by Mr Tangney’s impression that insurance costs will not rise significantly, but would worry about the sustainability of this situation if health care costs to be borne are to rise. I think it is simply too early to judge the situation, but would not be confident that there would be a price freeze if the EHIC privileges are lost.”