Controversial plans for NHS-funded crossborder medical treatment have been backed by politicians in Europe, it has emerged.
The proposals lay out a system whereby patients from any EU country who want to shop around elsewhere in Europe will have their medical costs paid by their home country.
Ministers have already pledged to protect the NHS if the scheme is fully endorsed by the European Parliament.
Concerns that the operational rules were not clear enough led Labour MEPs to abstain from voting, claiming patients travelling to another EU country for treatment must be better informed about reimbursement conditions and about the type and quality of healthcare they expect to receive in the host country.
Labour's Linda McAvan said the number of Britons currently seeking healthcare elsewhere in the EU was only 552 patients in 2007.
She called for patients to be given assurances that they will get all the necessary information on the type and quality of care in whatever country they are treated in. She added: "That is why we back a clear system of prior authorisation for all hospital and specialised care, meaning that patients have to be referred through the NHS before being treated abroad."
But Tories insist the proposals, adopted by 297–120 votes in Strasbourg, clarify patients' rights.