Embargo: 00:01 Tuesday 24 February 2009
Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


The House of Lords EU Committee have today welcomed a proposal from the European Commission for a Directive on patients' rights to cross-border healthcare, but called for improvements and warned that, due to the unpredictable impact of the provisions in the Directive, it must be carefully monitored upon implementation.

The Committee agree with the 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 Committee consider whether patients seeking healthcare in other Member States should pay the costs themselves in advance of treatment and then claim reimbursement later. They raise concerns that this would prevent those without adequate financial means from taking advantage of their right to cross-border healthcare. The report 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, which the Committee considers necessary both in order to protect the financial resources of health systems and to enable patients to make informed decisions about their treatment.

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 should finance information for its own citizens about healthcare abroad and should draw up a description of its own health system to guide 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 argue that the Directive should avoid the imposition of any administrative burden on healthcare professionals.

The Committee argue 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 welcome the Directive's provision that a Member State would be able to refuse to accept a patient from another Member State if, for example, this would increase waiting times for treatment. Nevertheless, they recommend that this part of the Directive would benefit from some strengthening.

Finally, the Committee emphasise 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 proposed by the Commission.

Commenting, Baroness Howarth of Breckland, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Social Policy and Consumer Affairs, said:

"We are pleased that the European Commission is proposing to give patients across the EU clear guidance on their right to cross-border healthcare. The current ad hoc arrangements are unsatisfactory and clear new rules are essential. 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.

"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."

"We don't know yet what impact the Directive will have on the numbers of patients wanting to travel to and from the UK for treatment. It is important the Directive's impact is carefully monitored so we are pleased that the Commission did not object to our recommendation that the Directive be subject to review within three, rather than five years."