Cross-border healthcare

Hospital exterior

The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers adopted the Directive on patients' rights in cross-border healthcare in March 2011.  This is an important Directive for the NHS and one in which the NHS European Office was actively involved.  

Background to the Directive

A proposal for a Directive to clarify the rights of patients to receive healthcare in another Member State was released by the European Commission in summer 2008. The proposal was based on a succession of European Court decisions during the previous ten years (including the ‘Watts case’ which concerned the NHS directly) and is widely regarded as the first genuine example of EU legislation specifically in the area of healthcare services, which are traditionally the sole preserve of national governments.

There were a number of uncertainties around the case law which made it difficult to implement them in practice. This Directive sought to clarify the present situation and put in place measures to support the provision of cross-border healthcare, for the benefit of both patients and those managing health services.

The European Parliament voted on 19 January 2011 to adopt an agreed legal text for the Directive. The text agreed by the Parliament was then formally approved by the EU Council of European Ministers on 28 February 2011. It is now EU law.

What this means for patients and the NHS?

The European Office published a new briefing providing an overview for both NHS commissioners and providers of the anticipated implications of the Directive. Download the document.  Separate summaries of the key points for both commissioners and providers are also available.

The Office has also published two separate articles on the implications of the cross-border Directive, one in the Health Service Journal and another in Eurohealth magazine.  

Implementation in England

The Directive has been implemented in England with the National Health Service (Cross Border Healthcare) Regulations 2013. The Regulations are available on the UK Government website. NHS England has published information guidance for commissioners, setting out the roles and responsibilities of commissioning organisations in European cross-border healthcare. The updated guidance (March 2016) is available for download from the NHS England website.

The Directive requires each member state to make information about travelling for healthcare easily available to interested patients, including the setting up one or more national contact points for cross-border healthcare to assist both incoming and outgoing patients. The role of national contact points is to provide patients, on request, with information on their entitlements to healthcare or procedures for accessing and determining entitlements. They will also be required to provide information on the quality and safety standards that apply in their country and a list of the providers which are subject to them.

Details for the national contact point for England are:

NHS England
PO Box 16738
B97 9PT

Tel: 0300 311 22 33 


Our healthcare for EU travellers page gives more information for NHS organisations about the EHIC system, which gives travellers access to emergency and urgent treatment whilst in another EEA country.

Why Register?

Great reasons to register with NHS Confederation

  • Access exclusive resources 
    Access member-only resources and tailor member benefits and services
  • Personalise your website
    Select topics of interest for recommended content
  • Comment and recommend
    Rate and share content with colleagues
  • Never miss a thing
    Register now to keep your finger on the pulse of the NHS Confederation

Log In