MEPs have backed plans for patients from any EU country to go to another nation in Europe for medical treatment with the cost of the treatment reimbursed by their national health system.
Labour MEPs abstained from the vote for the controversial cross-border scheme, but the Government has already said it would protect the NHS if the vote comes into force.
Labour argues that patients who decide to travel to other EU countries for treatment paid for by the NHS must be better informed about reimbursement conditions and have detailed information about the quality of healthcare in that country.
Labour’s Linda McAvan said: ‘We back a clear system of prior authorisation for all hospital and specialised care, meaning that patients have to be referred through the NHS before being treated abroad.’
Despite the possibility of care abroad, she said that currently the number of Britons seeking health care elsewhere in Europe is small, with just 552 patients in 2007.
She added that the figure is not expected to increase by much even if the new plan comes into force.
But Tories insist the proposals, adopted by 297-120 votes in Strasbourg, clarify patient rights.
Conservative MEP Philip Bushill-Matthews said the plan approved even dropped an earlier requirement that patients’ pay for their treatment and then seek reimbursement afterwards.