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Demand for EU Health Tourism highlights Government's NHS failures, says MEP

July 2, 2008 10:54 AM

The European Commission today unveiled healthcare proposals that could give UK patients new rights to seek medical treatment elsewhere in the EU. The EU proposal follows a 2006 European Court of Justice ruling that the NHS could not refuse to refund costs of overseas treatment if patients waited longer than clinicians advised, even if waiting list targets were met.

The proposals will allow any patient facing a delay who has the funds to pay for an operation upfront to seek treatment abroad and recoup the costs from the NHS.

Liz Lynne, West Midlands Liberal Democrat MEP, campaigner on Health issues in the European Parliament and co-chair of MEPs against Cancer commented today:

"Sadly, NHS hospitals have a higher incidence of super bugs and poorer survival rates for many conditions, including some cancers, than other EU Member States, so is it no wonder an increasing number of people are going abroad for treatment.

"Any proposal which offers more choice to patients and adds clarity to existing laws should be welcomed, but these proposals would not be necessary if the UK had learnt healthcare lessons from other EU Member States.

"In many countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, the MRSA infection rate is less than 1%, ten times lower than in the UK and yet unbelievably exchange of best practice is practically non-existent."

However, it is important that the NHS is not damaged financially by the proposed directive.

"Clearly, a balance needs to be struck as the NHS is not in a position to pay for more expensive treatment abroad on demand, but if a clinician advises treatment and this cannot be provided at home, then the NHS will have to cough up."