Euro MPS back plan for 'health tourism' for British patients

by Daniel Martin ,  Mail Online | 2009-04-24

NHS patients were given the green light yesterday to go abroad for free treatment.

MEPs backed a directive giving them the freedom to shop around the continent for quick operations - which in almost all cases would be met by their government.

It means Britons eager to escape waiting lists and superbug infections could head to any of the EU's 27 member states.

If the treatment abroad is cheaper than in the UK, the NHS will pick up the bill, although patients will have to pay travel and hotel fees.

The number of British 'health tourists' in the EU is very small - 552 patients in 2007 - and the figure was not expected to rise much even if the plans come into force.

The directive was backed by Tory MEPs yesterday but Labour MEPs abstained. It now has to be ratified by EU health ministers - and Britain has vowed to fight the plans, saying NHS trusts could be crippled if patients jump queues for treatment.

Tory MEP Philip Bushill-Matthews said: 'This will ensure that a patient's right to treatment is based on their needs and not means.'

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