Published: 03/06/2004, Volume II4, No. 5908 Page 4 5

The UK's health policies could be overruled by decisions from Brussels if the current draft EU constitution is not amended, the British Medical Association has warned.

In the draft constitution, due to be finalised later this month, clause 4(d) in the health article III -179 gives the EU the authority to pass laws 'combating serious threats to health when they affect more than one member state'.

The British Medical Association says the current wording of the clause could be interpreted to widen the scope of the article considerably, from its initial purpose of guarding against the spread of serious infectious diseases and other major threats to health.

BMA international committee chair Dr Edwin Borman said: 'We will require clarification from the EU presidency [currently Ireland] as to what constitutes a serious threat to health.

'Our understanding is that EU competency would and should be limited to external and unprecedented threats like the SARS virus and bioterrorism rather than existing diseases.

'Conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes and also existing infectious diseases should not fall into this clause.'

But Royal College of Nursing European officer Susan Williams pointed out that the draft constitution guaranteed the rights of EU countries to allocate resources and manage health services in their own states.

'The new clause says that the EU as a whole could take action on serious threats to public health which emerge, such as SARS, but there are caveats to ensure that individual countries retain their own powers over health policy.'

Ms Williams added: 'There is another clause which says that in future the EU could look at joint action on issues such as alcohol and tobacco consumption and this could be a concern for some of the food, drink and tobacco companies.'