EU healthcare proposals delayed

Court rulings say treatment should be available abroad within the EU
Court rulings say treatment should be available abroad within the EU

Plans to allow EU citizens to travel abroad for operations have been delayed.

The European Commission was to unveil its unifying healthcare proposals today, but "agenda reasons" mean the plans will not be published until next year.

The proposals have already come under attack from those concerned by the viability of treatment for British patients.

Dr Richard Vautrey of the British Medical Association (BMA) told the Today programme a "whole host of bureaucratic hurdles" could be encountered by those seeking to use the facility.

Speaking on the same programme, the NHS Confederation voiced concern that some patients would struggle to claim back the cost of an operation if British doctors decided the bill was unnecessary or unjustified.

Its policy director Nigel Edwards told the Today programme that the issue was one of inequality, claiming those living nearest to the continent and with the most money would benefit more than most on the NHS' books.

"For a lot of patients having more routine procedures, the incentives to travel will be much less, but the principle that if you need surgery you should be able to get it somewhere safe that can do it at a cost the NHS can afford is right," he said.

The principle of a 'free market' within the European healthcare zone has won support from the Conservatives' health spokesman in the European parliament, John Bowis, however.

He said British patients would be "voting with their feet" once the proposals were introduced.

"People have been travelling abroad for various treatments for years and the procedure needs to be formalised rather than leaving decisions to the interpretation of the courts," Mr Bowis commented.

"As long as no toes are trodden on in the subsidiarity of health care systems in individual member states, this is a positive step."

A series of rulings by the European court of justice guaranteeing the right of citizens to be reimbursed after travelling to another EU state for treatment if they encountered "undue delay" in their home country made the draft directive necessary.

The case of Yvonne Watts, a Briton who travelled to France for a hip operation, resulted in one such ruling.


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