The UK Government has responded with caution to draft proposals from the European Commission which would guarantee that the cost of treatment in any European Union member state is reimbursed by the patient's own national health scheme.

Under the terms of the plan, patients would have to pay medical costs upfront, but will be reimbursed up to the level of cost of the same treatment at home. However the Department of Health has given the plans a lukewarm welcome.

A spokesman said the UK Government "is clear that 'health tourism' will not be funded by the National Health Service". He added that "we are also absolutely committed to ensuring that, where UK patients choose to travel abroad for care, the NHS retains the ability to decide what care it will fund".

He went on to say that "anyone from other member states travelling to the UK specifically for healthcare will have to pay the full NHS cost of treatment upfront". The spokesman concluded by saying that the priority for "the vast majority of NHS patients is high quality healthcare received close to their homes, and we remain committed to providing this".

The British Medical Association was a little more enthusiastic, saying that it welcomes the principle of greater choice for patients. However, it warned that language barriers and other problems are yet to be addressed, and said that the plans must not be allowed to undermine values of equality or the financial stability of the NHS.

However, Terry John, chairman of the BMA’s International Committee, said that the proposals "must not be allowed to erode the fundamental values of universality, accessibility and equality that should underlie healthcare". He added that "patient mobility must not just be for the wealthy and educated" and standards of care "for people who choose to stay in their home country, or are unable to travel abroad for treatment, must be maintained".