[Skip to content]

Friday 23 August 2019
Search our Site

The European Union Directive on cross-border healthcare

European Union

The EU Proposal for a Directive on patient’s rights in cross border healthcare was released in 2008. It provides an added stimulus to the already growing number of medical tourists who seek hospital treatment elsewhere in the European Union. Its aim is to create a formal framework for cross border healthcare and remove the obstacles that patients face if they wish to travel for treatment in other EU countries.


Treatment Abroad has recently submitted its response to the consultation run by the UK Department of Health. We also assisted the IMTA (International Medical Travel Association) with its submission to the UK Department of Health.

Why do we need a Directive on cross border healthcare?

The Directive has come about from a desire to create a European market in healthcare, and to some extent as a result of European Court judgements which have upheld the rights of patients to gain reimbursement for treatment in other countries where they have been subject to "undue delay" in their own country.


What does it cover?

The Directive proposes a number of developments in cross border healthcare, including reimbursement of medical tourists, patient safety and quality issues, European cooperation on healthcare, assessment of new medical technology and standards for e-health and transfer of patient information between member states.


How will it affect UK NHS patients?

In April this year, NHS patient choice in the UK was extended, giving patients the right to opt for treatment anywhere in the UK. The Directive, in effect, extends this patient choice to anywhere in the EU, provided that the treatment is available at a cost which is the same or lower than the NHS cost.


Under the Directive, the NHS will be requested to establish a direct payment or reimbursement system. This means that patients will not have to fund the treatment and then claim the cost back from the NHS. They will have to fund their travel and accommodation costs. No prior approval is required from the NHS or the patient's primary care trust.


It doesn't mean that patients in the UK or elsewhere in the EU can opt for treatments overseas that are not covered by the NHS. So, if a new drug or a new procedure is available in another country, the patient cannot obtain payment for this.


What else is covered by the Directive?

In addition to clarifying the position regarding medical tourism within the EU, the Directive also embraces:

  • The establishment of common principles in terms of guaranteeing patient safety and ensuring quality and continuity of care.

  • Stimulating greater European cooperation on healthcare including the establishment of “European Reference Networks” which would create a concentration of expertise, training and resources for specific diseases and health issues.

  • Establishment of a European network for the assessment of new medical technology.

  • Establishment of standards for e-health, in particular the transfer of patient information and treatment records between member states.


Read our response to the consultation run by the UK Department of Health.