Test beds for treatment overseas

18 Oct 01
Patients from the Southeast of England could receive routine surgery in French and German hospitals within two months.

19 October 2001

Health Secretary Alan Milburn this week launched pilots in three areas – Portsmouth, East Kent and West Sussex/East Surrey – saying they would be 'test-beds' for other parts of the country.

'The government's top priority is to ensure patients receive high-quality treatment when they need it. That is why we are making record levels of investment in the NHS, using spare private sector capacity where it is appropriate, and encouraging health authorities and primary care trusts to use capacity elsewhere in the European Union where that is the best option,' he said.

Milburn was forced into the move by a ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice in July. This said patients have the right to be referred elsewhere in the EU if they cannot receive treatment without 'undue delay' in their home country.

Peter Huntley, chief executive of the Channel Primary Care Group in Dover, is co-ordinating the three pilot sites. He said contracts were currently being negotiated, concentrating initially on sending patients to France and Germany.

'We are looking at low-to-medium risk operations in the first instance, such as joint replacements, cataracts and hernia repairs, so we can iron out any glitches in case people wish to send more high-risk patients at a later date. It will not be used as a last resort – it gives us the ability to treat patients in yet another environment.'

The Department of Health hopes the first patients will fly to the Continent within a few weeks – probably from East Kent – as it plans to incorporate the lessons learned in guidance to be sent to all health authorities before the end of the year.

East Surrey/West Sussex and Portsmouth are a little further behind East Kent. A spokeswoman for East Surrey and West Sussex health authorities said they planned to send around 160 patients for low-risk procedures, mainly between January and March next year.

The Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Health Authority confirmed it was also examining the potential for teams of European surgeons to treat patients locally.


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