The Government has confirmed some NHS patients will be sent abroad in a bid to cut hospital waiting lists.
Ministers have given the go-ahead for overseas treatment, following a ruling by the European Court of Justice that patients facing "undue delay" in their home countries could seek treatment in other EU states.

The Health Secretary said the move was great news for patients. The decision could lead to one of the biggest shakeups in the National Health Service since it was created in 1948. He said the judgment "will have an impact in all European countries including the UK. I will be seeking to discuss its implications with other European health ministers."

Critics say the move is proof that the NHS cannot cope. Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said, "This is an admission by the Government of its failure to address the real problems of the health service during its first four years. " He said the policy could "even lead to British nurses and doctors being recruited by the European hospitals to treat British patients."

The Health Secretary said the change "will not happen overnight" as it may require legislation and time to put in place "robust systems to guarantee patients high standards of care and taxpayers good value for money". He said the overwhelming majority of NHS patients would continue to be treated by the health service. "But in future primary care trusts will have the option of securing treatment for NHS patients in other European countries."
The Government has come under increasing criticism about waiting lists delays and Tony Blair made the health service a priority in the 2001 general election campaign.


March 2002

The British department of health may soon send state patients to South Africa for treatment in an attempt to shorten the long waiting lists in Britain. A spokesperson on Monday confirmed that the pilot project, launched earlier this year to transfer National Health Services (NHS) patients to Europe, might be extended to South Africa. The weak rand and excellent quality of medical care in private hospitals make South Africa an obvious choice.