I have raised this with Health Ministers, on behalf of constituents who face a delay in getting their operation.
This is the reply I received from the Minister of State at the Department of Health, the Rt.Hon John Hutton,MP
Thank you for your letter of 22 October about the arrangements for people to get treatment in other European countries. Following the European Court of Justice rulings in July in the joined cases of C-157/99 Geraets-Smits and Peerbooms and C-368/98 Vanbraekel, NHS health authorities and primary care trusts (PCTs) have been legally able to commission NHS treatment for their patients from other countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). Alan Milburn has made it clear that they are able to do this as part of their wider efforts to reduce waiting times for NHS patients. It will be for local commissioners to decide whether or not to contract with healthcare providers in other EEA countries. From April 2002, PCTs will become the lead NHS organisations in planning and securing all health services. PCTs will need to meet the costs of treating NHS patients elsewhere in the EEA out of their budgets. Patients will only travel to mainland Europe for treatment where that is what the patient wants and after a full clinical assessment shows that it meets their needs. Officials in the Department of Health are working with the NHS in Portsmouth. East Kent and West Sussex/East Surrey to offer patients in those areas the option of going to mainland Europe for health treatment. Lessons learnt from these areas will inform guidance for the NHS on purchasing care in the EEA, which will be published later this year. If, once they have the guidance, PCTs decide to commission services for their patients from other European countries, it is likely that they will contact patients to offer them the opportunity, and provide information for interested patients. The Department of Health also intends to establish through an open tendering process a list of approved foreign providers to assist PCTs planning to commission treatment abroad. It will take a number of months to put this in place.
Apart from these arrangements, there is a system already in place whereby patients can obtain treatment in other European countries at NHS expense, subject to prior authorisation by the Department of Health. This is the so-called E112 system, which is publicised on pages 36-37 of the Department's leaflet " Health Advice for Travellers ", available in post offices. It is also posted on the Department's website at www.doh.gov.uk/traveladvice. It is open to your constituents to apply for authorisation to have treatment in another EEA country, using the E112 procedures. They would need first to obtain the agreement of their UK consultant and health authority. EU law requires authorisation to be granted if the treatment required is not available in the home country without "undue delay" This is a matter for local decision, taking account of the maximum guaranteed waiting time and the patient's clinical need for treatment. Each case is considered on its own merits.
The Department of Health has been reviewing the E112 arrangments to ensure they comply with the ECJ judgments and proposals for change will be announced shortly.