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Friday 23 August 2019
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A world of medical opportunity: Special report on health tourism

Travel for treatment


A world of medical opportunity is a report published by Special Report Publishing and distributed exclusively with the Sunday Telegraph.


Travelling for healthcare is a relatively new phenomenon. But impatience with the National Health Service and incredulity at the cost of private care mean that more and more Britons are taking an interest. Jerome Burne explains.


"Last year an estimated 50,000 Britons went overseas for medical treatment. This year the number is expected to rise to 75,000 and to reach 200,000 by the end of the decade, creating a £886 million market"

In an ideal world there wouldn't be any health tourism. Instead you'd go for quick, efficient and free or cheap treatment at a hospital nearby. Who wants the extra cost and inconvenience of flying thousands of miles to be treated somewhere they speak a different language by clinicians who won't be around to pick up the pieces if things went wrong?


On the other hand if you're worried about being one of the thousands who get infected by antibiotic resistant bugs in UK hospitals, or if you are one of the 47,000 people who haven't been able to find an NHS dentist in the past year, or if you can't have a baby and are faced with two or more years waiting for a donated egg, then travel becomes a much more attractive option.


These are just some of the reasons, along with savings of up to 60 per cent or more on costs of private treatment in the UK, why last year an estimated 50,000 Britons went overseas for medical treatment. This year the number is expected to rise to 75,000 and to reach 200,000 by the end of the decade, creating a £886 million market.


UK professional medical bodies still regularly warn against it. The British Medical Association, for instance, highlights the dangers of flying soon after surgery, which can cause complications because of the stress travelling puts on the body.


"Patients should get an understanding of an appropriate convalescence period before attempting to return home," says a spokesperson.


But the fact is that medical tourism is now a global phenomenon. Last year around 150,000 Americans were driven abroad by the astronomical costs of their system and the industry is growing by about 15-20 per cent annually. Recently there was a report that five of the big American corporations in the Fortune 500 have been considering adding overseas medical treatment as part of employees' health insurance package.


Medical travelers logged an estimated 19 million trips and spent £10 billion in 2005; the numbers are expected to more than double by 2010, according to Tourism Research and Marketing, a London consulting firm. Countries such as India and Singapore now actively promote medical tourism and large hospital groups, such as Sahara Global in India and Parkway Health and National Healthcare Group in Singapore offer treatment to the highest standards.


India was the top destination for Britons last year; the country catered for a total of 175,000 health tourists, 25,000 up on last year: next year, 200,000 are expected. In India alone, health tourism is expected to be worth £1.1 billion by the beginning of the next decade.


The kind of place you might visit is Wockhardt Hospital [WHERE?] which caters to foreigners and has a success rate of 98.4 per cent for cardiovascular surgery with 15,000 operations performed - a rate which compares favourably with any UK or US hospital.


Another popular destination is Thailand, which last year served 1.4 million medical tourists, including 65,000 Americans. An estimated 400,000 of them went to the remarkable Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, which is known for its marble floors and luxury amenities that make it seem more like a resort hotel than a healthcare facility. Its International Patient Registration Center boasts of translators fluent in 13 languages.


Of course medical tourism is not a worry-free venture. From the training of foreign doctors and the conditions of far-flung facilities, to the legal limbo you may be left in should something go awry, to the wisdom of getting on long-haul flights after major surgery, there are troubling questions to consider.


At the end of this supplement you'll find our ten tips for having a successful trip. Much of the advice comes down to finding out as much as you can before you go. For instance, find out how many surgeries the hospital you are thinking about has performed, and what the documented success rates are.


Another way is to check if it is accredited by the Joint Commission International, a division of the body that rates US hospitals; it has so far accredited roughly 100 hospitals in 25 countries. Also use the resources of the web. One called treatmentabroad.net, for instance, contains lots of information. Another, surgeryabroad.org.uk, is run by medical professionals and checks out the doctors and clinics it lists; it can also arrange travel and accommodation for you.


As well as using the web it might be worth getting a book: two of the best are David Hancock's Complete Medical Tourist, published last year, and Patients Beyond Borders, published this year, which is aimed at the American market. Three years in the researching, it contains never-before-published information on treatment options in 14 countries, including lists of fully-accredited hospitals, clinics and health travel agents.


Patients Beyond Borders suggests Singapore could actually be your best bet. It is ranked sixth in the world for healthcare by the World Health Organisation, has 11 JCI-accredited hospitals, and houses a facility allied with the legendary American institution Johns Hopkins. Singapore might cost you about 20 per cent more than what you would find in India or Thailand, but it is still much cheaper than the US or UK.


Boost to health tourism in EU

According to reports just as we were going to press, new EU legislation could be about to give health tourism in the EU an enormous boost. A new directive could make it compulsory for the NHS to fund patients to have treatment anywhere they wanted in Europe. Even though waiting lists have come down to around 18 weeks, many might feel that two or three weeks in some where as near as Belgium was worth the trip. Others might travel to avoid picking up a superbug in UK hospitals. Exactly how the new rules will work isn't clear yet.


Still, it is obvious from these figures on plastic surgery that not only is nearly everywhere in the EU cheaper than the UK but that the rates vary a lot, so it pays to shop around. For instance breast augmentation in the UK is £4,350, in Belgium £1,767, the Czech Republic £2,428, France £2,685 and Hungary £1,930.


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Special Report Publishing report on health tourism, distributed exclusively with the Sunday Telegraph

Publisher: Miles Allen
Editor: Andrew Baker
Design & Production: Benn Withers
Print & Distribution: The Telegraph Group Limited


This report was published in association with Treatment Abroad . Visit online at: www.treatmentabroad.net
For more information about future reports distributed exclusively with the Daily or Sunday Telegraph Telegraph contact Special Report Publishing on 020 7629 7080
Copyright Special Report Publishing ©


Material contained in this report is for general information only and is not intended to be relied upon by individual readers in making (or refraining from making) any specific medical decision. Appropriate advice should be obtained before making any such decisions. Special Report Publishing does not accept any liability for any injury suffered by a reader