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Medical Facilities, Europe (Convention)

Volume 531: debated on Monday 26 July 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to the case of a British subject, Mrs. Mary Mason, who was recently compelled to return to the United Kingdom from Belgium in circumstances liable to endanger her health, owing to her inability to pay hospital charges in Belgium; if he is aware that the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance is intended to cover such cases and that the delay in ratifying it is causing similar hardships to other British subjects; and when Her Majesty's Government propose to ratify the convention.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Her Majesty's Government will now ratify the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance.

I have no information about Mrs. Mason's case, but will be glad to look into the matter if the right hon. Gentleman will supply me with the necessary particulars.

As regards ratification of the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance, the text was laid before Parliament as a White Paper on 1st July. It is the intention of the United Kingdom to ratify the Convention upon the expiry of the customary period.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the case to which I refer is that of a British subject who felt herself compelled to return to this country from Belgium in a state of health in which she was not fit to travel because she was being required to pay £6 a day in a Belgian hospital? In view of the great generosity shown to foreigners under our Health Service, does not the hon. Gentleman think that we ought to get some reciprocity at least from our allies in the Council of Europe and the signatories to the Brussels Treaty?

When the right hon. Gentleman refers to reciprocity I must inform him that we can only ask that the Belgians, and other signatory Powers to the Convention to which I have referred, should provide for British subjects the same facilities which they provide for their own people. If they do not have a national health service such as we have, we cannot insist that such benefits should be provided.

Would it not be correct to say that all Western European countries make provision, at any rate for emergency medical attention, for people who have not the means to pay?

I will look into the case which the right hon. Gentleman has sent to me. It is possible that Mrs. Mason's case may be covered by the Brussels Convention, but as that deals only with lawful residents in the country, and if she was a tourist, I doubt it.