UK Lords welcomes cross-border health

  • 3 March 2009

The United Kingdom’s House of Lords has welcomed a proposal from the European Commission for a Directive on patients’ rights to cross-border healthcare.

The Lord’s EU Committee said that information was key to enabling cross-border healthcare to work effectively for EU citizens.

However, the upper chamber of the House of Commons said that due to the “unpredictable impact” of the provisions in the Directive, it must be carefully monitored upon implementation.

The Lords’ Committee agreed with the European Commission that, as the right of EU citizens to travel to another Member State to receive healthcare has been confirmed by the European Court of Justice over the last ten years, it is essential to put in place a legal framework to replace the current ad hoc arrangements.

The report by the EU Committee recommends that a patient’s own healthcare provider should pay the fees directly to the provider in the other Member State, and suggests that this could be linked with the process of securing authorisation prior to travel.

The report also calls on Member States to ensure that patients are aware of their rights under the Directive and are informed about the quality of care that they can expect, any potential language barriers, and how to make a complaint should that be necessary.

Member States were urged to finance information for their own citizens about healthcare abroad and to draw up a description of their own health system to guide citizens from other Member States.

Acknowledging that it may fall to medical practitioners, such as GPs and dentists, to actually provide the information to patients, the Committee argued that the Directive should avoid the imposition of any administrative burden on healthcare professionals.

The Committee argued that greater clarity is required on systems of redress when patients are dissatisfied with, or harmed by, healthcare provided in another Member State.

The Committee emphasised that the impact of the Directive will only be clear once it has been implemented, and so recommend that it be reviewed within three years, rather than five as currently proposed.

Commenting, Baroness Howarth of Breckland, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Social Policy and Consumer Affairs, said: “Most patients will still want to be treated locally but everyone will at least have the opportunity to seek healthcare abroad, and to do so in possession of detailed information on what they can expect at each stage of the process.

Baroness Howarth added: "All EU citizens, not just the wealthy or well informed, must be able to benefit. We therefore recommend that patients should not have to pay for their treatment upfront and that Member States should be responsible for informing their citizens of the options open to them for cross-border healthcare.”


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