The UK government has rejected the idea of developing interoperable IT systems across the EU and of delivering an EU-wide electronic prescription system.

In its response to the European Commission’s proposals for a directive on patient rights in cross-border healthcare, the Department of Health said the costs of developing and implementing the NHS IT Programme in England were significant.

It added: “To attempt to ensure interoperability of systems across the community for what is likely to be a very small number of patients would be a disproportionate and unjustified burden.”

Instead, the DH said any EU-level measures should be limited to supporting work that is already ongoing, such as that being undertaken as part of the EU e-health Action Plan, which seeks to share ideas and experience.

In its response to a DH consultation on the proposals for a directive, the British Medical Association said it believed there needed to be a mechanism for sharing patient data between clinicians in a patient’s home country and their country of treatment.

However, it acknowledged that the challenges facing individual countries could be magnified when applied across the EU.

It added: “Questions remain such as how will the language barriers, differences in structuring and recording information be managed?”

On prescribing, the DH rejected the European Commission’s proposals for an EU-wide prescription template and also the concept of e-prescription interoperability as unjustified in cost-benefit terms.

It said: “It is hard to see the justification for introducing binding measures across all countries and all systems for what is a very small proportion of prescriptions.”

In a joint response to the consultation, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, the National Pharmacy Association and the Ulster Chemists’ Association said e-prescription systems were already in development in several member countries and were unlikely to be compatible, so it was difficult to envisage how interoperability could be achieved.

The DH also rejected proposals that the directive should include a statutory duty for national regulators to share fitness to practice information. It said there was already a functioning voluntary process for sharing such information which the UK supported.

The draft EU directive is currently the subject of negotiation and a final directive is unlikely before 2010, according to the DH.

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