An EU crossborder healthcare directive has been announced that will lift restrictions on patients travelling for treatment between EU countries.
For example, UK patients wishing to travel to other EU countries for medical care will be able to reclaim the cost of treatment from the NHS.
They will only have to pay their travel and accommodation costs, plus any top-up fees if charges in the foreign hospitals are higher than the NHS cost.
Last year more than 70,000 patients left the UK for treatment.
The changes have been welcomed by Treatment Abroad, a UK firm which provides access to information and advice about clinics, hospitals and specialists within the EU
Company spokesman Keith Pollard said changes would let prospective NHS patients make informed decisions when choosing destinations, facilities and doctors for their treatment.
Treatment Abroad provides information covering healthcare services available, doctor accreditation, treatment costs, travel and accommodation.
There is also a downloadable Guide To Medical Tourism for those considering overseas treatment.
Mr Pollard said: “This directive could revolutionise the way we experience healthcare in this country and throughout the rest of Europe.
“The directive will take the concept of patient choice to a new level.
He expected a huge increase in traffic to the firm’s website, from patients all over the EU.
He added: “Competition from European hospitals could prompt much-needed changes within the NHS.
“Successive governments have made token gestures to introduce market forces within the NHS.
“Ranked 17th out of 29 European countries in the recent Euro Health Consumer Index, the NHS now faces real competition in the marketplace.”
He said the company was working on a code of practice for medical tourism to encourage development of best practices among medical tourism agencies and healthcare providers.
The code would be completed in early 2008.