Europe points the way in health care

By John Williams

The Blair Government’s first implicit acknowledgement that thorough going European Union integration is logically inevitable came not from the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry, nor even from the Home Office. No, it came for a far more logical and potentially vital source – namely from the Department of Health, the Government Department that holds the subliminal roots of evolving British identity.

The decision by Alan Milburn, Minister of Health, to accept the European Court of Justice ruling that it was unlawful for states to refuse to pay for treatments abroad unless they could offer “the same or equally effective treatment without undue delay” strikes a fundamental blow for European integration. The blow doesn’t just demonstrate the unquestionable logic of federalism. Of far greater significance, it is a blow, just because it is accidental, that unavoidably ignites the processes which generate subliminal collective European identity, the vital collective European identity required for European integration.

Reporting Milburn’s decision, The Guardian’s Social Affairs Editor John Carvel observed:

“Mr Milburn, under pressure from Downing Street for a more radical approach, decided to scrap regulations under the 1977 health act that have stood in the way of treatment abroad.

“Primary care trusts – local committees that are being set up to control most NHS spending – will in future be allowed to contract with EU providers for batches of operations such as cataracts and hip replacements that have the longest waiting lists.”

Such an observation, highlighting the Blair government’s grudging acceptance of European Union integration along federalist lines, provides a glimmer of genuine federalist hope.

This article was contributed by John Williams, who may be contacted at jhw@dircon.co.uk. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

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