New rules make health tourism easier
PLYMOUTH patients would be able to 'hop on a ferry' to get medical treatment anywhere in Europe under new plans to extend healthcare rights.
'Health tourists' in search of the best doctors or the shortest queues would have their treatment abroad paid by the NHS in Britain.
The liberalisation of the rules on 'cross-border patients' rights' is now working its way through the European Parliament.
The draft legislation was an initiative of the group led by Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson, who represents Plymouth in the European Parliament.
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"The idea is that if, say, you need a hip replacement and there isn't a bed free in Derriford, but there is one in Brest, you can hop on a ferry and just go across the Channel," Mr Watson said.
The Parliament's environment and public health committee has voted on plans to give patients more clearly defined rights to seek treatment in other EU member states.
All MEPs will now vote on the proposals on April 11.
If they agreed, it would eventually become easier for patients to seek healthcare abroad and be properly reimbursed for its cost, the committee said.
Tory MEP Neil Parish welcomed the proposal.
"It ensures that there's competition," he said.
"Much as I would prefer people to get their treatment at home, if there is an opportunity to have a good operation across the Channel, then they shouldn't be denied that right.
"The best thing would be to try to get our own facilities up to the standards of those in Europe."
Glyn Ford, Labour MEP for the South West, said: "We're not in favour of health tourism.
"We're against the notion that people find the best hospital for any particular ailment and go there."
The draft directive approved by the committee says patients will have the right to seek healthcare abroad, but their own governments may insist that they get prior authorisation for the money to be repaid.
MEPs agreed with the general rule that patients should be reimbursed up to the level they would have received in Britain.
It would also be left up to the Government to decide whether to cover other related costs, such as accommodation and travel.
Patients with rare diseases or disabilities would be entitled to have their costs repaid even if the treatment they need was not provided for by their own country's laws.
Not all conditions would qualify. Long-term care and organ transplants are excluded from the new draft rules.