Published: 10/01/2001, Volume 112, No. 5787 Page 24

All abroad: the case that opened the door for UK patients HTM Peerbooms was a Dutch citizen who, after being seriously injured in a car crash, fell into a coma.His family learned of a procedure called 'neurostimulation', which was available in Austria.

They asked for his sickness fund in the Netherlands to cover the costs of the procedure in Austria, but this was rejected because the treatment was only experimental in the Netherlands and available only for people aged 25 or younger.

The family decided to take Mr Peerbooms to Austria for treatment, which was successful.

The case was referred to the European Court of Justice which ruled that:

Member states are free to organise their social security systems as they see fit.

Prior authorisation for reimbursement of medical costs constitutes a barrier to the freedom to provide services, but restrictions might be justified to protect the financial balance of the health systems and to maintain a hospital service accessible to all.

Member states cannot refuse treatment in another country simply because that treatment is not available in the 'home' country, if the treatment is an internationally recognised medical procedure.

Citizens are entitled to receive medical care in another member state if there is undue delay in their own country.