By Ray Dunne
BBC News Online health staff
A pensioner in Kent is among the first in the country to use a High Court ruling to demand treatment overseas.
NHS waits for hip operations can be up to a year
Robert Towner, 67, who lives near Tunbridge Wells, was told this week that he could wait up to a year for a hip operation on the NHS.
But Mr Towner is refusing to wait and has demanded that his health authority pay for him to have surgery abroad.
The High Court ruled on Wednesday that NHS patients suffering "undue delay" could go abroad for treatment.
Mr Justice Mumby failed to spell out at what point patients could go abroad for treatment.
However, he rejected government claims that only those who wait longer than the NHS target of 12 months are eligible.
Under European law, any EU citizen suffering "undue delays" in receiving treatment at home can apply to have an operation in another member state.
Figures from the Department of Health show that 1,120 NHS patients were treated elsewhere in Europe last year under the scheme.
Up until now, health authorities have been reluctant to pay for treatment overseas.
Patients have often found it difficult to obtain approval because they need to get the written support of both their GP and consultant.
As a result, many patients opt to travel abroad under their own steam and pay for treatment themselves.
However, Mr Towner is hoping to use the High Court ruling to force the NHS to pay for his surgery.
His wife, Maggie, said the couple couldn't afford to pay for treatment privately.
"We talked about the possibility of having the operation done privately," she told BBC News Online.
"We could scrape the money together but it would take every last penny of our savings."
She said the couple were outraged that the NHS could force them to wait up to a year for treatment.
"He is in a terrible amount of pain. His hip is crumbling and he needs the operation.
"He cannot wait for 12 months. He can't sleep and he can't walk very far. His quality of life is badly affected.
"I think it is dreadful that after paying in national insurance for all those years while he was working that he cannot get treatment now when he needs it. I think it's horrendous."
Mrs Towner said the couple were inspired by last week's High Court ruling, which followed a case taken by 72-year-old Yvonne Watts from Bedford, after she was forced to pay for a hip operation in France.
"If it wasn't for this women's case, we wouldn't have known anything about this. We are determined to fight to get his operation," she said.
The Department of Health has said that it is considering the High Court ruling and what implications it will have for its waiting times policy.
But a spokeswoman said patients who are considering demanding treatment overseas should discuss their case with their local health provider.
"They should take it up in the first instance with their local primary care trust," she said.