Intended for healthcare professionals


Cross border health care in Europe

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 03 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a610
  1. Martin McKee, professor of European public health1,
  2. Paul Belcher, EU government affairs adviser2
  1. 1London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  2. 2Royal College of Physicians, London NW1 4LE
  1. martin.mckee{at}

    European Commission proposals provide legal clarity and more information for patients

    This week the European Commission publishes its long delayed proposals for how citizens of the European Union should obtain health care in other member states. These proposals will be considered by the European Parliament and governments of the member states.1 The proposals build on a process involving health ministries and other stakeholders that began in 2003.

    Current arrangements for cross border health care were established in the 1970s, when it became clear that free movement within Europe would require that people could receive health care when abroad. It was also recognised that people might need to be sent abroad for treatment, but that this should be controlled by the organisations paying for the care.2

    The number of people crossing European borders has increased exponentially.3 A new generation of Europeans sees national frontiers as increasingly irrelevant. Some of them have challenged what they see as unjustifiable restrictions on their right to obtain health care in another country and, in many cases, their arguments have been upheld by the European Court of Justice.4 This has resulted in a legislative framework …

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