Brussels 02 June 2004 – On 10th December 1996, Mr. Peerbooms, a Dutch national, fell into a coma as a result of a road traffic accident. The coma left Mr. Peerbooms in a vegetative state and requiring immediate access to a cutting edge treatment called neurostimulation. At the time of the accident there were only two centres providing this treatment, used only experimentally, in the Netherlands, and only patients under the age of 25 were allowed to undergo neurostimulation. He was subsequently transferred from a hospital in the Netherlands to the University Clinic in Innsbruck, Austria where he received the treatment which pulled him out of his coma. Mr. Peerbooms, in order to try and receive reimbursement for his treatment, had to take his case to the European Court of Justice (for more information, click here).

For many patients like Mr. Peerbooms the agonizing wait for innovative treatments in their home country will continue despite the recent conclusions of EU Health Ministers on patient mobility. Where some Member States offer cutting edge medical technologies, getting access to them for all EU citizens remains a difficult task. Mr. Peerboom’s story illustrates the extent to which national reimbursement systems vary from country to country. Different liability regimes and different data protection laws are two other obstacles that patients can encounter when attempting to obtain treatment in another Member State.

Health First Europe, an alliance representing European patients, healthcare workers, academics, experts and industry, welcomes the conclusions on patient mobility adopted in Luxembourg by European Union Health Ministers, but urges the EU to further focus on encouraging and simplifying patient access to modern, efficient, innovative and reliable medical technology and healthcare. “There is no doubt that Health Ministers see the need for patient mobility, but the demographic time bomb requires speed in addressing the core problems of access and investment in modern treatment techniques” stated Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Felix Unger, President of the European Institute of Medicine.

There are many practical hurdles that prevent European patients from obtaining equal access to healthcare. Health First Europe welcomes the intention of the European Commission to carry out a study to identify the factors that motivate those patients who travel abroad for treatment. This will provide important information to help address specific deficiencies in healthcare provision.

“True patient mobility will significantly contribute to raising quality standards through greater competition among hospitals and increasing efficiency, through greater specialization of hospitals”, stated Albert van der Zeijden, Chair, International Alliance of Patients’ Organizations (IAPO).

Health First Europe stresses, however, that the progress made so far to encourage patient mobility should not be seen as an opportunity to decrease investments in healthcare. Instead, Health First Europe would reemphasise the statement made in the April 20 European Commission Communication that “the overall economic growth and sustainable development depends on investing in health and health systems”.