The EU must aim to improve public health, prevent human illness and diseases, and identify sources of danger to human health. This has led to integrated health-related work at EU level, aiming to bring health-related policy areas together.
Through the health strategy, the EU plays its part in improving public health in Europe, and in so doing provides added value to Member State actions while fully respecting the responsibilities of the Member States for the organisation and delivery of health services and health care.
The EU health strategy focuses mainly on strengthening cooperation and coordination, supporting the exchange of evidence-based information and knowledge, and assisting with national decision-making. To this end, the EU is developing a comprehensive health information system to provide EU-wide access to reliable and up-to-date information on key health-related topics, and hence a basis for a common analysis of the factors affecting public health.
Secondly, the EU wishes to enhance the capability for responding rapidly to health threats. This is why it is strengthening the epidemiological surveillance and control of infectious diseases.
Further aims are ensuring patient safety and the quality of healthcare to facilitate cross-border healthcare, as well as the mobility of health professionals and patients.
Health and consumer protection policies are particularly closely linked. The safety of products and services - including food safety and rapid food alerts - are key priorities here.
There are other policy areas of particular relevance to ensuring a high level of health protection. Health and safety at work aims at ensuring protection against workplace risks, work accidents and occupational diseases. Environmental and health policies also need to work in tandem to achieve a high level of health protection. Technological developments and information society programmes include work relevant to health systems and public health. Regional investments in health are being supported through Structural funds with a view to contributing to reduce health inequalities between and within Member states and thus to foster social and economic cohesion across Europe. Several specific research projects are designed to provide scientific support to health-related challenges. The evaluation and authorisation of medicinal products is another key related topic.
Emergency health care when travelling in the EU
In order to access health services when you’re travelling in another EU country, you should make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to emergency treatment at state-affiliated doctors’ surgeries and hospitals in the EU. The treatment may or may not be free, depending on the country you’re in; having an EHIC means that you are treated as if you were a resident of that country. In some countries, patients have to pay for a portion of their treatment, while in others, treatment is free.
You can find information on exactly what you’ll have to pay for in which country at the NHS “Travelling in the European Economic Area” webpage.
The EHIC does not allow you to go to another EU country to have planned (i.e. non-emergency) treatment.
Going to another European country for health treatment
Some people are interested in getting their treatment abroad, for example if they would have to wait a long time to get the treatment in the UK, or if the NHS doesn’t offer the treatment. There are still no clear guidelines on patients’ rights to receive treatment in other EU countries. If you’re thinking of doing this, a useful starting point is the NHS page on “Going abroad for planned treatment“. You might also want to take a look at the “Mobility in Europe” page of the EU Public Health Portal, which gives more information on how to investigate receiving treatment in the EU.
There’s some information on ongoing developments related to patient mobility and EU citizens’ rights to go abroad for treatment at the EU “Overview of Health Policy” page.