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.