Against protests from David Davis, David Cameron rejected the Patients’ Passport policy during the Tory leadership election… but is the idea about to return at the EU level?
Tory MEP John Bowis hopes so. Speaking on the Today programme at 7.10am, Mr Bowis welcomed a Commission initiative (BBC report here) that could see a right to ‘health tourism’ introduced across the EU. UK citizens could enjoy a right to receive treatment from a health provider in another EU state if it was at a similar cost and if the patient had experienced "undue delay". Mr Bowis implied that the right might be enforced by European courts if Brussels did not act.
John Humphrys on Today implied that "the Tories" were in favour of this policy. If so, that wasn’t entirely clear from an exchange between Andrew Lansley and Health Secretary Alan Johnson in the Commons yesterday:
Andrew Lansley: "Will he say whether he will support or oppose the draft directive to be published by the Commission tomorrow, or is he frightened that, in addition to the £490 million extra that we already pay for British residents abroad or visiting other EU member states, many more will choose EU continental European health care in hospitals that perhaps have lower infection rates or lower waiting lists? Are the Government going to support choice for patients or oppose it?"
Alan Johnson: "The hon. Gentleman was doing well until the last bit. A couple of weeks ago, one of the Sunday newspapers took three pages to say that 70,000 people in this country had sought treatment abroad, when we treat 1 million people every 36 hours in the NHS. When one delved into the article, one found that those 70,000 wanted cosmetic surgery or cosmetic dental surgery that could not be provided in this country. It was portrayed as though people were, in the words of the hon. Gentleman, going abroad to escape long waiting times and get cleaner hospitals. However, the start of the hon. Gentleman’s point was absolutely right. We have to consider the directive carefully. I have not seen its terms yet—it is not published until tomorrow—but I have made it clear to Commissioner Kyprianou, as has the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Dawn Primarolo), that we must maintain the crucial principle that clinicians will decide what treatment to give in this country. We need to ensure that the principles that have guided the system for many years are not sacrificed to something that might seem like a good idea for a European directive, but which reduces patient choice in the long run."
Labour are said to be resistant to a proposal that is still in very draft form and, if it happens at all, may be years away. A NHS industry representative on Today said that there were many objections on equality grounds to the proposal. To very easy questioning from Mr Humphrys he said that it would be a proposal that favoured the relatively young, mobile and rich.
9.30am: Fraser Nelson has posted on this topic: "The Labour left is angry about the rich escaping the NHS system by private insurance so you’d think they’d welcome the chance for the poor to do so as well. But no, they say this European plan threatens the foundations of their beloved NHS. I’d like to hear someone explain that to a patient. “Sorry Mrs Dickson, you’ll have to wait in agony for another year but your sacrifice helps protect the ideological integrity of the NHS”. It is a cause they are prepared for others to die for."
1.20pm: Fraser reports that Lansley is backing Brussels on this, apparently saying "What is the government so frightened about? Are they afraid of choice?"