Plans to create a European Union free market in public healthcare could open the health service to legal challenges from patients demanding treatments that are not available in the UK.

Article five of a new EU directive says "corrective action" should be taken if national standards fall short of international "progress in medical science and health technology".

NHS European Office director Elisabetta Zanon told HSJ the NHS Confederation and Department of Health were concerned the wording could undermine the UK's autonomy in deciding what care was offered and could leave the health service open to legal challenges.

The DH was yesterday due to launch an eight-week consultation on its response to the draft EU directive, published in July.