Legislation states that NHS patients in the UK are entitled to seek medical treatment abroad, within the European Economic Area, but if you are thinking about treatment in another country, then you need to be aware of the correct to follow, what you are entitled to, and where. You will soon realise that your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) can only be used if emergency treatment is needed while you are abroad, so if you are seeking planned, NHS funded treatment, you need to follow other procedures.
If you are hoping to book NHS funded healthcare abroad, then you can go down one of two routes to access this: There is the S2 route, which is where prior approval is granted, for a direct agreement between the NHS in this country, and the state healthcare system in the country you wish to be treated in. The other option is what’s called the EU directive on cross-border healthcare. This option means that in a vast number of cases, you will pay the costs incurred in your treatment, and then reclaim those costs back from the NHS when you return to the UK. You may have to get prior authorisation in some cases, or speak to your Primary Care Trust (PCT), to see if they are able to pay directly for your treatment.
Apart from being resident in the UK, and entitled to NHS services, whichever route you go down to apply for treatment abroad, may come with some other conditions. Under EU directives, you can only reclaim money on treatments that are already available and funded by your NHS PCT. Other entitlements mean that if you are able to get help with travel costs in the UK, the same may apply when you book treatment abroad. This will only include the cheapest modes of transport, and doesn’t take into account living and accommodation costs, which you will have to pay for yourself.
Reimbursed costs, for the most part, will be paid back to you only up to the equivalent NHS treatment costs in the UK, so you may be liable for additional costs if you are looking to have treatment abroad that is more expensive than in the UK.
Something else to consider, is that treatments on the NHS are normally subjected to waiting times, which take into account your medical needs, your condition, how it may progress, and your general health. If you are hoping to have treatment in the UK, you may be seen within waiting time targets, or you may be allowed to have the treatment abroad, if waiting times are no longer medically acceptable.
These are all things to consider when it comes to medical treatment in other countries, but it’s not just about researching your options. You should discuss any plans you have with your doctor, and Primary Care Trust, who can advise you on all your treatment and funding options, and discuss aftercare with you. Travel Insurance is also something you will need to investigate, as you may need a specialist policy that covers planned treatment abroad.
Browse around this site for further information on the different types of medical treatments you can have abroad, and the risks involved. We have focused on NHS funded healthcare in Europe, but if you want to book healthcare outside of this area, speak to your local health commissioner, who can advise you about Individual Funding Requests.