Access to healthcare should know no borders

11 October 2020
Access to healthcare should know no borders

Border regions make up for 40% of the European Unions' territory and around 150 million Europeans (more than one in three) live in border regions. For many of them, the nearest hospital or even doctor is across a border. Making sure that citizens can access health services close to home as easy as possible is therefore a key concern.

Putting patients' rights first

Next year, the European Directive on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare will have been in place for an entire decade. Despite this, many obstacles persist in order to guarantee for patients the fundamental right to health-care across Europe. They include, for example, the accessibility of information and the difference between health systems within the Members States, unproportioned administrative costs and complex procedures when applying for care abroad.

Over the last month, the COVID-19 crisis has shown that common health strategies and a better coordination with all key actors on the ground (not least with regard to emergency management of healthcare facilities and care homes) are both essential if we want to provide an effective response to such crises.

How can we ensure in the future a more strategic approach to cross-border healthcare that puts patients' rights at its very heart and makes all interested citizens benefit from it in an easy way?



Cities and regions, leading by example

Cities and regions are natural key actors in the debate. Many good examples show how, by working together with their neighbouring cities and regions, they succeed in promoting health cooperation in particular for the most vulnerable groups and by learning from each other's experiences. During the coronavirus outbreak, several healthcare projects between cross-border regions (funded by Interreg programmes) contributed to fighting the pandemic in regions heavily affected by the crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic proved how important close healthcare cooperation across borders can be for Europeans. Seeing patients being treated across borders was the best representation of what solidarity really means ”, stresses PES Group member Karsten Uno Petersen, a member of the Southern Denmark Regional Council, who is leading the opinion on cross-border healthcare in the European Committee of the Regions. “Let us build on what we learned from this emergency to improve our cross-border healthcare systems and provide people living in border regions with simplified procedures and patient safety, as well as clear information, both for them and for healthcare workers ”.


Looking ahead

In his opinion on cross-border healthcare, adopted at this week's plenary session, Karsten Uno Petersen makes a series of concrete suggestions aimed at strengthening the rights of European patients who wish to have access to healthcare or treatments in another EU country, including:

  • setting-up so-called 'health-corridors' between border regions to guarantee the right to continue moving across borders to access health-care during lockdown for patients and health professionals;
  • promoting digital cross-border solutions that allow for quicker analyses;
  • providing easy access to information on the possibility of and conditions for obtaining treatment in other Member States also with the help of regional contact points;
  • providing better financial certainty for patients by simplifying the procedures for prior authorisation and costs' reimbursements;
  • last but not least, providing adequate funding for the implementation of cross-border projects aimed at improving cooperation in the framework of the future EU for Health programme.



Photo credits: Unsplash/S&B Volanthen