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Ec Health Treatment

Volume 202: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will introduce proposals whereby national health service patients could be referred to receive treatment in the EC.

Under current European Community regulations, individual patients may be referred elsewhere in the Community for treatment in certain specified circumstances, with the prior authorisation of the Department.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of our European partners, with a very high standard of health care, are offering to perform operations for which there is a demand in this country—such as hip replacement—at competitive prices? One health authority is already negotiating with a French hospital, but it is under the impression that it may not yet make use of that facility. Does my hon. Friend agree that such an arrangement would not only broaden the health services already made available to patients but achieve financial savings that could be ploughed back into the provision of other services?

I urge my hon. Friend to examine more carefully the health arrangements in many European Community countries, because Britain is one of the few in which a patient may visit a general practitioner and receive hospital treatment free of charge. That is rare in the rest of the Community. Patients in France are expected to pay 20 per cent. and patients in Belgium up to 25 per cent. of the costs. My hon. Friend should again examine the relative costings. The figures that she gave referred to comparisons with the private sector, not the national health service. I want to ensure that we build on the success of the first six months of NHS reforms so that no one will want to go anywhere but to his or her most immediately available hospital to receive NHS treatment.

Will the Minister make the point that, rather than look for treatment to be provided elsewhere in Europe, the Government should provide hospitals in this country? For the past 10 years, my constituency has been promised a hospital, but no progress has been made.

I much regret that such a new Member of Parliament should have picked up the churlish habits of other Labour Members. The hon. Gentleman's constituency includes the South Cleveland NHS trust hospital, which is a first-rate, second-wave trust. As the report produced last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, patients are getting a first-rate service from NHS hospitals and ever-improving treatment from the hospitals.

The problem is not just that frequently patients in other European countries have to pay for their treatment. They often receive a far lower standard of care than patients in this country. Is not it a fact that doctors and nurses in France were on strike recently, and that in Italy patients have to ask relatives to bring in food because none is provided by the hospitals? Relatives often have to provide non-medical care as well, and patients have to bring in their own blankets and bed linen. Will my hon. Friend note that I, for one, want to receive the superior care that our patients receive?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I seem to remember being told that the latest policy is to turn water cannon on the nurses; that does not strike me as the most helpful approach.

We do indeed have one of the best health services in the European Community, and my hon. Friend is right to emphasise its strengths. The report that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State produced last week revealed that this year we are due to treat an extra 250,000 patients; we are cutting the number of long "waiters", and creating a service that is responsive to patient needs. Those are all reasons for us to have pride in our health service, rather than denigrating the achievements of all our public-spirited NHS staff.