Cross-border healthcare: Patients' rights

14.02.2014 - 23:00
Doctor holding out stethescope with focus on object

Better protection and information for patients

Although health care is above all a national responsibility, the EU has increasingly worked with Member States to improve public health and to protect Europeans from a wide range of serious health threats that have an impact across national borders. Such threats can be more effectively tackled by Europe-wide cooperation rather than by individual EU governments acting alone.

By complementing national efforts, EU action by no means interferes with the exclusive competences of Member States for the management of their health systems. But in a European Union without borders where more and more people move from one country to another for holidays or work, it is crucial to ensure the option for all Europeans to receive healthcare treatments abroad and be reimbursed by their own healthcare system. Furthermore, medical care is sometimes better abroad, for instance for highly specialised care or in border areas where the nearest appropriate facility is abroad.

During this Parliament’s legislature, the EPP Group has pushed for increased EU action to improve health conditions of EU citizens and supported important steps for safer medical care throughout Europe, notably by better protecting and informing patients, fighting against fake medicine, ensuring easier and safe cross-border organ donations and increasing safety in the use of medical devices.

1 - Seeking medical care throughout Europe

Until recently, EU citizens could not use their national healthcare system to get medical treatment in another country. The EPP Group has been the main driving force behind the new EU legislation, adopted in January 2011, providing for cross-border healthcare. It enables people to receive healthcare treatment abroad and to be reimbursed by their own healthcare system without prior authorisation. This is good news for people suffering from a rare disease, as these patients will be able to receive the health care that is really adapted to their needs. Better coordination and cooperation between EU Member States can improve diagnosis and treatment.

2 - Stricter safety control on medical devices to prevent health risks

Following recent scandals with breast and hip implants across Europe, the adoption in October 2013 of new rules on medical devices requiring stricter safety checks represents a major step forward in ensuring the safety of patients. Strongly supported by the EPP Group, the legislation covers a large range of products, from sticking plasters, contact lenses, pregnancy tests, breast implants and x-ray machines to hip replacements. It gives Member States more control over the organisations that check the medical devices before they are allowed on the market, while also ensuring that the medical industry can continue to innovate and develop medical devices that add to the quality of people’s lives.

3 - Security of medicinal products

In the last few years, the EU has been losing ground in pharmaceutical innovation, while counterfeit medicines have been on the rise. At the same time, people in Europe still suffer from inequalities in the availability and affordability of medicines. Therefore during the 2009-2014 legislature, the EPP Group has pushed the agenda for safer and more effective medicinal products, while at the same time making sure the business environment stimulates research and boosts innovation in the pharmaceutical sector.

  • Strengthened monitoring of medicines: New rules adopted in 2012 foresee better surveillance and evaluation of medicinal products to prevent any more cases like that of the French diabetes drug “Mediator”, allegedly implicated in over 500 deaths. The legislation introduces an automatic emergency procedure, including an EU safety evaluation and possible EU-wide withdrawal if for example, a Member State withdraws a medicinal product from the market.
  • Protection against fake medicines: New measures were also adopted to better protect EU citizens from the serious threats posed by fake medicines.

4 - Common EU rules to facilitate safe organ donations

The EPP Group has played an important role in setting standards for the quality and safety of organ transplantation in Europe: over the past 50 years organ transplantation has become an established practice worldwide and is often the only possible treatment. Yet the queues are long - about 60,000 patients are now on waiting lists in the EU - and every day 12 people die while on a list. The new common rules will facilitate donations and enable shorter waiting times.

The EPP Group strongly insisted on the voluntary and unpaid character of donations, and thus made sure that payment for donations or illegal activities were ruled out (which does not prevent living donors from receiving compensation strictly limited to reimbursing expenses and loss of income related to the donation). The rules condemn the trafficking of organs and protect donors and recipients. In addition, mechanisms have been put in place to identify organ donors across Europe, with for instance the setting up of donor registers.


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