New rules approved by the European Parliament today make it possible for British citizens to travel abroad to other EU countries for operations and medical treatment if their NHS is unable to provide essential medical care within a reasonable timeframe.
Seeking healthcare abroad could particularly benefit patients on long waiting lists, or where a particular treatment can be provided faster or more expertly abroad, and if that wasn’t good enough, patients will be able to claim back the money if they pay upfront for treatment provided the type of treatment and costs would have normally been covered in their own country.
The new rules contained within the Cross-Border Health Directive (COD/2008/0142
) are due to take effect in 2013, and concern only those who choose to seek treatment abroad as the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC
) scheme will continue to apply for citizens who require emergency treatment when visiting another EU country.
The text approved by MEPs during the January session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week is the result of an agreement reached with European Council, which must also give its formal approval. Once signed into law, each member states has 30 months to make the relevant changes to their national legislation.
French MEP Françoise Grossetête
who was the Parliament’s rapporteur of the text, said: "Patients will no longer be left to their own devices when they seek cross border healthcare and reimbursement. This directive will at last clear up patients' rights because until now they have been very vague
The news was also welcomed by South West Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson
who described these new rules as "a real milestone for cross-border healthcare in Europe while keeping the power of maintaining health systems in the hands of national governments
"This new scheme will give patients greater choice in their healthcare while maintaining effective safeguards such as having NHS doctors pre-approve treatment to take place abroad,
" he told the PRSD
. "The new rules will also guard against health tourism, with foreign patients coming to the UK having to pay the full NHS cost of treatment.
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