As a citizen of a European Union state, you have a right in certain circumstances and under certain conditions to seek treatment in other European states and for the cost of this treatment to be reimbursed by the NHS.
In March 2011, the European Directive on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare was adopted by the European Parliament. This Directive clarifies the rights of EU citizens to seek treatment in other EU member states.
The EU Directive does not give patients any rights to cross border healthcare that they don’t have already. It doesn’t introduce any new rights. These rights have already been established by the European Court of Justice. What the Directive aims to do is to establish a framework within which cross border healthcare will operate and to set the rules regarding how patients will access care and what kind of treatment they are entitled to outside of their own country.
However…. there are very few EU citizens who understand what their rights are to treatment elsewhere within the EU and few know how to exercise those rights. In truth, most people are still not aware that they may choose treatment in another EU state.
Now that your rights have been clarified by the new Directive, how do you go about accessing treatment, what do you need to consider, what happens afterwards and what if something goes wrong.
Most EU states will have some form of gate-keeping or prior authorisation to protect both their national interests and their citizens. It is very important therefore to follow the set procedures for pre-approval or you may struggle to get your money back following treatment.The Directive obliges local commissioners to make the processes as clear and transparent as possible and to ensure that all citizens know their rights regarding cross border treatment.Your GP cannot refer you for treatment in another country, but should be able to advise you on your rights and the pros and cons of having treatment in another EU state. One of the benefits of pre-approval is that there can be liaison between your home state provider and the country of your choice, ensuring that medical records and notes are shared and that aftercare can be arranged on your return.
Choosing treatment in another EU state is entirely your own responsibility, and as such it is down to you to thoroughly research your chosen destination. You should consider factors such as local healthcare standards, language barriers and the overall quality of facilities. Remember, pre-approval does not mean that your chosen provider is approved, merely that your treatment there will be paid for. States are obliged to provide a National Contact Point for visiting citizens, but this should be just the start of your due diligence process. It is you, as an individual, who is purchasing the service, not your home state, and so it is your responsibility to ensure that it is appropriate for your needs.
After treatment, you should be welcomed back into your home country healthcare system for after care on the same basis as if you had been treated there in the first place.
Since your home country did not commission your treatment, you have no rights to sue them if anything goes wrong. The responsibility for negligence and injury claims lies with the country in which you chose to be treated, and will be treated according to local and EU laws. The Directive obliges National Contact Centres to provide full information on legal issues, complaints and compensation procedures. However, it should be noted that negligence claims can be extremely long and costly procedures in any EU country, and so it is essential that you take out insurance to cover such costs should they arise. You need to make sure that your travel insurance covers your particular needs, including any pre-existing conditions; this is important should you need repatriation.