The 330 hospitals in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia can help eliminate the massively long waiting lists for care in the Netherlands, says Alex Friedrich, chairman of the academic hospital in Munster. However, Netherlands’ Ministry of Public Health is unenthusiastic about the idea of long-term and large-scale cross-border cooperation.
The Ministry of Public Health in the Netherlands has argued that it is not as simple as German hospitals claim. If a patient has surgery in Germany, they still have to receive aftercare in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has struggled to catch up on healthcare delayed during the coronavirus pandemic. 100,000 to 120,000 patients have been waiting for surgery for months according to the Dutch Healthcare Authority. There is no quick solution in sight. Absenteeism among healthcare workers is still very high, and that is on top of structural staff shortages.
North Rhine-Westphalia borders the Netherlands and has about the same number of residents but many more hospitals. Whereas the Netherlands has about 90 hospitals, North Rhine-Westphalia has 330. Here, patients have to wait but that is only a few weeks, compared to months or longer in the Netherlands.
If Dutch patients are planned in on a significant scale, the German patients may have to wait three to four weeks, which is acceptable for many conditions.
Friedrich argues that the Dutch government should conclude a multi-year agreement with North Rhine-Westphalia to jointly tackle the Dutch waiting lists. Such an agreement is necessary if a master plan is to be a success. If German hospitals can expect a large number of Dutch patients on an annual basis, they can include them in annual planning.
The Dutch Ministry of Public Health is not very enthusiastic about the idea. They argue that treatment abroad is not an appropriate option for many patients, so a large-scale plan is not a good solution. On aftercare that patients need, there must either be capacity in the Netherlands, or the patient must travel abroad for all follow-up appointments. There are also many patients who do not want to be helped abroad, for example, because of a long-term treatment relationship with a doctor in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands Patient Federation has the same concerns as the Ministry but believes that investigating the plan is a good idea, saying it must be left up to patients as some do want to have the choice of treatment elsewhere even if the waiting lists don’t disappear.