The European Parliament and Council of Ministers have formally adopted the directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare following a number of European Court decisions over the past 10 years including the Watts case.

The directive clarifies the following points:  

  • Patients are only entitled to receive healthcare abroad that they would be entitled to receive under the NHS.
  • It contains the possibility to require patients to be accessed to determine their entitlement to healthcare.
  • The NHS will be able to introduce a system of prior authorisation for those seeking cross-border healthcare where that healthcare warrants an overnight stay or longer stay in hospital or the use of specialised and
  • cost intensive medical equipment. In certain circumstances authorisation can be refused including when the healthcare can be provided by the NHS in a “medically justifiable” time limit.
  • The NHS will be able to decide its own system of payment to cover cross-border healthcare ie, by way of reimbursement to the particular direct payment to the provider.
  • Costs: the NHS will only be required to reimburse patients up to the level of cost for that treatment under the NHS. However, the NHS can decide to refund additional related costs, ie, accommodation and travel if they wish.
  • Information on cross-border healthcare will have to be available to patients on request including details about quality and safety standards that apply.
  • Providers will have the right to refuse planned treatments from other EU countries or to prioritise them to the detriment of NHS patients.
  • Implementation: now that the directive is European Union law, each member state (including the UK) will have 30 months to enact it nationally.
  • Until the directive is enacted nationally, the existing rules on cross-border healthcare remain in force. The DH has published regulations, directions and guidance on the establishment of prior authorisation and reimbursement arrangements for NHS patients seeking treatment under the cross-border rules.

A new online network has been established called the cross-border healthcare network which is a networking group for professionals on patient mobility issues where medical treatment is requested in other EEA countries.