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News of the Day ... In Perspective

06/07/2006

British National Health Service might — or might not — pay for surgery abroad

Mrs. Yvonne Watts, a 75-year-old grandmother, tired of the constant pain, went to France for a hip operation.

In a landmark decision, the European Court of Justice ruled that the NHS must refund the cost of foreign care if patients endure “undue waits” for surgery in Britain.

Mrs. Watts would have had to wait a year for “routine” surgery in Britain. Her local health authority denied her a form E112, which would have authorized treatment in another EU country, when she declined their offer of a reduced wait of 3 to 4 months.

British courts will now determine whether that amounted to an “undue delay.” They are supposed to base the decision on clinical opinion, not government targets.

The Department of Health argued that if all NHS patients were guaranteed reimbursement for offshore medical treatment, it would seriously undermine the NHS system of administering priorities through waiting lists (The Times 5/17/06)

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