The Government has
confirmed some NHS patients will be sent abroad in a bid to cut hospital
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
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.