In November 2005, a young French woman received the world's first ever face transplant. The operation was carried out in Amiens, France, by a team that was mainly French but contained one Belgian. This case exemplified very visibly the benefits that free movement of health professionals can bring to the delivery of the increasingly complex health care being provided in Europe. The benefits of professional mobility extend far beyond the very specialized care involved in that exceptional case. Within Europe, there are both surpluses and shortages of health professionals. The opening of borders offers a means to ensure that appropriate health professionals and potential patients are brought together, whether through movement of patients or, as is discussed in this chapter, movement of professionals. In addition, there are particular issues that arise in border areas, where patients may live closer to a hospital across the border than to one in their home state. Especially where these areas are sparsely populated, it is simply good management of resources to ensure that health professionals can also move across borders, working in the most appropriate facilities, wherever they are situated.
Yet there are also dangers. The large economic differences between Member States, which have grown substantially with the two most recent enlargements to the European Union, pose a challenge for the poorer countries. A plentiful supply of health professionals, coupled with formidable physical barriers to migration, meant that, during the communist era, wages were very low in comparison with other occupations.