Presentation at EAHL’s annual conference: cross—border healthcare, the right to health, and patients’ rights

Brigit Toebes

This year’s annual conference of the European Association of Health Law focused on cross-border healthcare. In principle, this measure (based on the Patients’ Rights Directive) makes it easier for European citizens to move across borders to seek (better) healthcare. However, we should not get over-excited about its current ability to enhance the overall availability, accessibility and quality of healthcare services for Europeans. A Commission report  published in September this year reveals that so far, Europeans have made little use of the possibility to seek healthcare across the border. A rough estimate based on this reports’ findings leads to the conclusion that slightly more than 0.1 per cent of Europeans sought healthcare abroad in 2015, in other words one in every 1000 EU citizens. Thus, the measure does not really enhance the right to health as stipulated in Article 35 of EU’s Charter on Fundamental Rights as well as in many international treaties that EU Member States are a party to. Also from a patients’ rights perspective the measure is disappointing: despite the suggestion that we are dealing with a ‘Directive on Patients Rights’, the measure does not contain a comprehensive catalogue on patients rights, as recognized in, for example, the European Biomedicine Convention. The National Contact Points, which are to secure access to information (an important patient right), are thus far under-used: only one in ten EU citizens knew about their existence in 2014, and only 109.223 requests were recorded last year.

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