There is an ongoing struggle between Whitehall and Brussels to see who will undermine the liberalising measures of whom. Today, it is bureaucrats in Whitehall who are objecting to an European effort to liberalise the market in one of the most essential services: healthcare.
In 26 September 2006 the European Commission launched a consultation on a legal framework to enhance cooperation between member states’ health systems. This month it stated that it was not necessary to get approval from one’s national healthcare provider or health ministry before travelling to a neighbouring EU member for treatment.
This is causing panic in the NHS. On the one hand, they may be called upon to reimburse unlimited numbers of patients – whereas individual Primary Care Trusts and/or the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence may approve or decline treatment based on cost, they would not be able to decline treatment abroad.
On the other hand, the NHS is understandably concerned about the competition this will impose. Figures from the NHS examined by organisations such as The King’s Fund suggest that relative to the wealth of our population and the amount we spend on healthcare, tens of thousands more Britons die of cancer and heart disease as the averages for the EU or the OECD (the club of 30 rich countries).
The Stockholm Network sums up the problem nicely: “The problem appears to be the [European] Commission’s application of admirably free-market principles to an industry which remains dominated by state provision in large swathes of the continent.” Unfortunately, the vested interests have the ear of ministers. “Only a system where market principles of open competition and profit motivation prevail can prevent this commendable proposal for freer movement being thrown out by national governments.”
So if you’re struggling to find an NHS dentist, why not hop on a no-frills flight to Budapest and let an excellent Hungarian dentist do the work. Better than queuing up the street in winter in the hope that the NHS will do the work.