Every year people travel to different countries (or perhaps different parts of the same country) to obtain health treatments they perceive are not available closer to home, are provided by better doctors than those at home or more quickly than they could other wise expect. People who currently do this generally have to pay for that treatment (particularly if they are going outside the country, though not always) but yesterday the media was full of proposed new EU legislation that would mean that patients could travel to different countries for treatment and have it paid for by their home country. Of course the ‘NHS is terrible’ media lobby immediately took the view that this would just mean that British people would want to go to France or Spain for their treatment rather than anyone would actually want to come here. But I wonder how likely that is seeing as most people want to receive good care close to home, are actually not held in waiting lists for the lengths of time they were before (no one seems to know about the 18 week referral to treatment targets we are all working to achieve for next year), and generally receive the care they need when they need it.
Of course there are exceptions, people can’t always get new drugs and there have been a few notable publicly played out examples of people taking their health trusts to court to obtain treatment. But we have to remember that this is the exception rather than the rule and that the line does need to be drawn somewhere (even if that line needs redrawing regularly. The media tends to play into the perception that health care as provided in the UK is poor, when most people’s individual experiences are not as such. They play into the idea that the rest of Europe has services that are cleaner, better, and quicker than we can expect. This might be true in countries such as France (where they are struggling to afford the services they have), Germany and Belguim for example but I am not sure it is true for other countries in Europe.
I have witnessed health tourism from the opposite direction and have cared for people from Greece, the middle east and Africa in the private wing of a London teaching hospital and have also cared for people of various nationalities within NHS facilities , some of whom had been here long enough to receive NHS care but equally others who had not. I am all for choice, and certainly choice in this country might help to improve local services (certainly I spend my working life in just this area) but I am not sure that this legislation will help that cause. I would like to see the media in this country doing something to show what is good rather than what is always bad about health care in this country, but I expect that is something of a very tall order.