EU Cross-border Healthcare Directive boosts health tourism

The new EU Cross-border Healthcare Directive which is to be announced today intends to lift restrictions on patients travelling for treatment in other EU countries. Patients wishing to travel to other EU countries for medical treatment will be able to reclaim the cost of treatment from the NHS and will only have to pay their travel and accommodation costs, plus any top-up fees if charges in the foreign hospitals are higher than the NHS cost.

The directive could revolutionise the way we experience healthcare in the UK and throughout the rest of Europe. The directive will take the concept of patient choice to a new level. Competition from European hospitals could prompt much needed changes within the NHS. Successive UK governments have made token gestures to introduce market forces within the NHS; ranked 17th out of 29 European countries in the recent Euro Health Consumer Index, the NHS now faces real competition in the European marketplace.

The Directive will provide a framework for cross border healthcare and will deal with issues such as quality of care, patient safety, method of funding and transfer of patient information. There are also plans to introduce "European reference networks" which would bring together medical expertise across Europe and encourage greater collaboaration between centres of excellence.

Dental tourism....without going abroad?

This week sees news that two buy-to-let-property development millionaires plan to open a series of drive-in dental centres close to motorway junctions around the UK. Having seen the growth of dental tourism in the UK, they have decided to bring overseas dentists to the British patient, offering prices for dental treatment which will be competitive with those in countries such as Poland and Hungary.

They plan to set up a national chain charging the same or less than NHS clinics. Thie service will be staffed by dentists from Eastern Europe who will receive free housing but will only get salaries in line with what they would earn back in Eastern Europe.

Whether this idea will get off the ground remains to be seen. Will they be able to find overseas dentists who are prepared to work at Eastern Europe salary rates when they are based in the UK? How will they attract the best overseas dentists to work at these rates? And how will they select the dentists?

If it works....perhaps we'll see the UK becoming a dental tourism destination?

British patient wins NHS payment for treatment abroad

Another British patient has succeeded in recouping the cost of treatment abroad from the NHS.

Ann Belshaw of Suffolk took the Suffolk Primary Care Trust to court to pay for a scan at a private clinic in Germany. The NHS originally told her that she would have to wait a year for a scan on her back at the Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.

A three-year legal battle then ensued to force her local NHS Health Trust to pay for her private treatment abroad. The Trust has now agreed to pay the £350 cost of the scan and Mrs Belshaw's legal costs , just as the the case was to go before London's High Court. Had it gone to the High Court, there is little doubt that the European Court of Justice ruling on cross border treatment (the Yvonne Watts case) would have applied.

This legal precedent combined with the forthcoming EU proposals on cross-border healthcare could lead to significant growth in medical tourism from the UK.