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EU Commission on European Health Market
 EU warns members to prepare for health treatment revolution (
 By Andrew Bounds andGeorge Parker in Brussels
 Published: September 5 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 5 2006 03:00
 Europe's public healthcare systems must prepare for a revolution as barriers to patients crossing borders to seek treatment drop, Brussels' top health official said yesterday.
 Markos Kyprianou, European health commissioner, told the Financial Times that court judgments have confirmed a right to travel for treatment across the 25-member bloc and he would act to implement it.
 While so-called health tourism is on the rise, many EU members have argued that medical services fall outside the scope of its single market. But the European Court of Justice has repeatedly found that they do not.
 In May it ruled that those facing "undue delay" should be allowed to travel elsewhere in the EU, after Yvonne Watts had travelled from the UK to France to avoid a year-long wait for a hip operation.
 "This was the punchline to all these judgments," Mr Kyprianou said. "The internal market applies to health services. People can shop around."
 This could open lucrative opportunities for private providers to lure clients from across Europe in a fast-growing market.
 Today Mr Kyprianou will launch a debate, requested by member states in the European Commission, that will lead to proposals within months on how the market should function.
 "We need to give people information. For example, if you want a hip replacement, where do you go, which country? There must be a better way to help the citizen make a choice," he said. "On the other hand, can a receiving country turn down a patient?"
 The move will have big budget implications for countries such as the UK, which effectively rations healthcare by limiting capacity and having long waiting lists. EU health spending rose from an average 7 per cent of gross domestic product to 7.7 per cent between 2000 and 2003.
 "We need legal certainty for the patient and for the health systems to help them plan," Mr Kyprianou said.
 Around 1per cent of operations across the EU involve people from other countries. France, Belgium and Spain are popular destinations for health tourists.
 Defining "undue delay" will be one thorny issue. "I am not going to produce a list of time limits," Mr Kyprianou said.
 There is also the question of liability if an operation goes wrong and who should pay for follow-up treatment when the patient returns home. Patients could only travel for treatment that would be available in their own country and at the same price. They would have to meet extra costs themselves.
 Mr Kyprianou said there could be efficiency savings. Small countries could bring in experts from abroad for limited periods for operations or send patients to them. It could be easier for people in border areas to visit their nearest hospital, even if in another country.
 Jim Murray, director of European consumer lobby group BEUC, welcomed the debate. "Patients need much more clarification of their rights," he said. "A few court judgments are not much help."