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  Medical Tourism
Sun, Sea, Sand and ... Surgery
The Growth of Medical Tourism in the UK
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
Andrew Lansley, the health secretary for England

When I was a kid and we were planning a holiday, we would get a load of brochures from the travel agents (this was in the days before the internet) and all sit around looking at them. We would make a decision based on how nice the beaches were, if there was a water-park or funfair for the kids, or if there was a popular tourist attraction.

It’s all different now. These days, the family gathers around the computer screen, and instead of saying, ‘Ooh, that place looks good; it has a lovely swimming pool,’ they say, ‘Ooh, let’s go there; it has a great orthopaedic department; cheap too; I can finally get that hip replacement.’

In this modern age of internet connectivity and cheap air travel, a sort of cottage industry has sprung up in which people are travelling abroad not for a holiday, but for cheap and quick medical procedures. Gone are the days of Brits coming back from abroad as red as a lobster, covered in Sudocreme and shouting, ‘Don’t touch me! My sunburn’s stinging!’ Now, they’re coming back in bandages, or on crutches, and shouting, ‘Don’t touch me! You’ll burst my stitches!’

For a number of years now, Brits have been travelling abroad for the specific reason of having medical procedures. For those who can afford it, it’s a viable alternative to the struggling NHS with its long waiting lists and concerns about hygiene in some facilities. Now, with the new government’s austerity measures kicking in and the NHS under even more pressure, more and more are turning to this option. Not only does it mean they don’t have to wait months for a procedure, but also it’s cheaper than going private for the same thing in the UK.

Such is the demand for this kind of thing that there are even medical travel agents now. Companies like The Medical Tourist Company offer a full package service that includes making all travel arrangements, including airport pick-ups, arranging accommodation and liaising with the healthcare professionals who will be treating you. If you’re feeling flush, they can even book a recuperation holiday for you.

For the princely sum of £4,000, you can have a hip replaced. That’s less than half the price if you have it done privately in the UK. £600 will get you dental implants, and if you’re having a bit of discomfort when you’re sitting down, you can get your haemorrhoids sorted for just £700. That has to be value for money in anyone’s eyes…or arse.

There are already an estimated 50,000 medical tourists per year from the UK, and that figure is set to increase further, with Poland and Bulgaria expecting a rush, especially with the new EU Directive that will come into force in 2013 which will mean that people will be reimbursed for any medical treatment they receive in another EU country. This will further encourage medical travellers, and perhaps reduce the lengthy waiting lists on the NHS.

On the downside, this could create a two-tier healthcare system, with those who can afford it getting access to the fastest, best treatments, while the rest of us peasants have to wait up to two years for an NHS procedure. We also have the risk of MRSA to deal with. Is it a coincidence that David “Posh Git” Cameron is the Prime Minister and equality in the UK healthcare and education system is rapidly being eroded?

And it’s not just medical operations either. 7.4 million people in the UK don’t have access to an NHS dentist, and paying privately can be prohibitively expensive. So, they hop on a plane and get the dental treatment they need on the continent.

I think it’s great that people can go do that; that they have the means to jump on a plane and fly to Europe for treatment. But there is something very wrong with the UK’s dental service when IT’S CHEAPER TO GET ON A PLANE AND FLY TO POLAND to get your teeth done. Does nobody see how insane that is!

Can you imagine some bloke searching through every drawer in the house, and shouting to his wife: ‘Love – I have an appointment at the dentist; where’s my passport?’

What an age we live in now, where you can go to Bulgaria for treatment for lung cancer, and then buy 200 cigarettes from the duty free on the way back. The world really has gone mad.

Most annoying though is that we in the UK are paying more tax and getting less value for our money. Our dustbins are now only emptied every two weeks instead of every week, we have to fly to the continent to get our teeth fixed, and if you need an operation you’ll be dead before you get it unless you can go private in Europe.

It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? We have people over here, complaining about immigration, saying there are too many foreigners coming over, stealing our jobs, using our services, yet there are tens of thousands of us going to their countries to use their health services.

But what about our health service? What happened to the British National Health Service that was once the pride of our nation, and a model for healthcare all over the world? Why aren’t people hopping on a flight to Britain to have their teeth done, or their gall bladder removed?

I can’t blame the people within the NHS. The nurses, doctors and auxiliary staff in our service are fantastic people, who do their best under increasingly tough conditions. I’ve been at my local hospital on a Saturday night, when drunks show up with injuries caused by their own stupidity, and they throw up all over the place and hurl abuse at the people trying to help them. And these people still do their best for them! God bless the staff of the British NHS.

As for medical tourism, if that’s what you want to do, then good luck to you. Personally, though, if I want to go abroad and come back broke and feeling like crap, I’ll just go to Disneyland Paris.

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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.






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