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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Premptive implementation

As Richard North and others have pointed out, the UK Government often scrambles to put EU legislation into practice before it is even agreed in Brussels.

The main advantage of this is to make it look like the Government are taking action rather than being forced to take action.

For controversial measures it also means the Government can say that the new EU law "will not change our current rules".

And so it seems to be with the Health Services Directive. You can find a briefing on the directive here.

It came up in December and took a beating from Labour backbenchers. Former Health Secretary Frank Dobson said that "It will be catastrophic for the NHS if this directive goes through." Jon Trickett said: "This Directive could well mark the beginning of the end of the NHS."

They were angry that the EU was basically implementing the old Conservative "Patients Passport" idea which Labour had won an election by opposing. They got together an EDM, the story started to hit the papers and the Government took fright - not least because it looked like was going to make it tricky to steer the EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty through the Commons.

So it was shelved until after the UK ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the Irish referendum.

Of course, now that's all out of the way, back it comes.

It is rereleased today using a bunch of other social legislation for air cover.

And lo, the UK Government have already started to implement it. Look in the new "NHS Constitution" released two days ago we see that:

You have the right to seek treatment elsewhere in Europe if you are entitled to NHS treatment but you face undue delay in receiving that treatment.

Which is the key point in the Health Directive.

Message to Labour backbenchers: you might as well not have bothered. The EU has spoken. If you don't like it, tough luck.

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