Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An early morning Eurostar journey to Brussels and on to Ghent. Ghent is a beautiful city, with medieval buildings lining its canals. Yet it is much less crowded by tourists than its better known neighbour Bruges.
We were holding a conference to present the findings of a major European project that we had been working on for the past 3 years. The topic was one that had little visibility when we started but was now at the centre of the European agenda – patient mobility.
Europe’s governments had long guarded their responsibility for health systems. Yet a growing number of rulings by the European Court of Justice were making this position untenable, as patients were given the right to seek care abroad, paid for by their national health system.
Our contribution was to show that the situation is even more complicated, going far beyond the cases that have come before the court. It includes the development of shared facilities in border areas, people who live in tow or more countries (perhaps weekending in France and working during the week in the City of London), and a growing number of people who retired to another country.
We had come to Ghent because this had been the setting for an earlier conference, held under a Belgian presidency of the European Union, that had placed European law on health care firmly on the agenda. This meeting provided an invaluable opportunity to bring together researchers and policy-makers.