Even before the Treaty of Rome and the advent of the Common Market leading inexorably to the European Union, the United Kingdom had made arrangements with most other European countries to enable British visitors to those countries to enjoy medical treatment on the same terms as the citizens of those countries. Since all the major tourist destinations were in countries with schemes broadly similar to our National Health Service, this really meant that we could obtain treatment free of charge (or nearly so) in the case of emergencies. This didn't obviate the need for tourists to take out travel insurance since the national scheme didn't cover such things as repatriation in the case of severe injury or death. However, it did at least mean that if one, for example, broke a leg, treatment could be obtained without having to consult insurers.
In order to take advantage of these reciprocal arrangements, travellers had to obtain a certificate known as a form E111. This was issued by the Department of Health and Social Security and was valid for the dates specified, which were the dates of travel plus a couple of days tacked onto the end (I think). So it was necessary to obtain a new E111 for each journey - a bit of a pain for frequent travellers. Eventually things changed and the E111 became valid for life. Even so, not all that many people knew about the existence of these forms and the need to obtain one before embarking on a continental excursion.
Things changed yet again and the E111 was replaced by a plastic card the size of a credit card - the European Health Insurance Card. I duly applied for one and I have always carried it with my passport. However, with the passage of time I had forgotten (if I had ever noticed) that the EHIC had a period of validity of only five years. It was reading the travel section of the weekend paper that drew this to my attention. My card expired at the beginning of last year! What's more, although I travel frequently to France, I have never bothered with supplementary insurance, relying entirely on the EHIC to cover medical problems and trusting to luck that neither I nor the Old Bat will need repatriation by air ambulance. It's just as well I have had no accident in the last 18 months.
And yes, I have applied for replacement cards which should arrive within the next couple of weeks - or so I am told.