EU patients’ rights to healthcare abroad

EU cross-border care directive

An EU Directive starting in October will clarify cross-border care.

A new EU directive which comes into force in October is designed to strengthen and clarify patients’ rights to be treated in other EU states when faced with delays in treatment. The EU Directive on Cross Border Healthcare has been described as “…the most significant and wide-ranging European health legislation in a generation.”

The directive isn’t introducing new rights, it only aims to provide a clear framework for the system to operate, document what treatment patients are entitled to abroad and how it is accessed.

Currently, many EU residents are unaware of their rights and the fact they can choose to be treated in another member state. For EU expats it means they can travel home to seek health care, this is significant for expats as it can mean being closer to the support of friends and family.

In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) has set up two routes via which patients can apply for funding for cross-border care. The S2 route is a direct arrangement between the NHS and the health authority of the country where care is being sought.

The EU directive route would see the patient pay for treatment abroad, then apply for reimbursement on their return. The NHS would not be required to pay any more for health care abroad than it would have cost in the UK.

Health authorities have expressed concern about the lack of information given to patients on their options for cross-border care.

“Adequate information provision is crucial for patients to make informed choices about their treatment and to be aware of their rights,” said senior public affairs officer John Jenkins.

As well as patients getting more comprehensive information, it’s important that doctors and health practitioners are also aware of the agreement and directive, said the NHS.

The cross-border deal applies anywhere within the European Economic Area (EEA) which includes Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein.