EU proposals promise boost to medical tourism

European Commission proposals to be released next week will increase patient mobility within the EU and give NHS patients access to hospitals across the Continent; patients in other EU countries will will also have access to NHS hospitals.

The proposals will confirm the ruling of the European Court of Justice on overseas treatment for waiting list patients who are suffering "undue delay". Yvonne Watts, a British patient who was on a waiting list for hip replacement paid to go to a French hospital for her hip operation; she then went to the European Court of Justice to claim the costs of the operation from the NHS. The Court confirmed the legal right of patients to seek treatment in another EU state, if they have to suffer "undue delay" in their country of residence.

The new proposals could result in a boom in NHS sponsored health tourism. Patients would pay for travel and accommodation costs, but the NHS would foot the bill for the treatment.

Details of the new proposals are expected to be made available this week.

Cosmetic surgery abroad under fire in the UK press

The growth of medical tourism is attracting more and more attention to issues such as quality of treatment, accreditation of surgeons and dentists, hospitals and clinics.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons this week launched an attack on “botched cosmetic work” carried out by surgeons overseas, based on a “study” of 36 UK plastic surgeons who reported having to correct surgery carried out abroad. The “study” resulted in headlines such as these:

Recently, dental tourism was also criticised, by the British Dental Health Foundation, resulting in headlines such as this: have to bear in mind the motives of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons and other professional associations in publicising such issues. They and their PR agencies represent the interests of UK surgeons, dentists and medical professionals. It's bad for business if people start travelling for treatment!

Let's take the "dodgy dentist story". The British Dental Health Foundation reported there has been "a significant increase in calls to its helpline from people who have had bad experiences of dental tourism". In fact, they receive around 40 calls per month about medical tourism out of 3,500 calls in total. Of the 40 calls, 5 are from patients reporting problems or who are unhappy with their treatment. And given the growth of medical tourism, you might expect an increase....

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons story is based on a study of 36 members.

"Half the surgeons who took part in a survey have seen at least “a little more” repair work than last year, while a third have seen “much more” repair work as increasing numbers of Britons opt for cheap surgery abroad"

Given that the number of UK cosmetic surgery procedures rose by 40% last year and medical tourism based cosmetic surgery probably rose by around 100%, you might expect there to be more problems seen?

At Treatment Abroad, we are pursuing several initiatives to counter such criticisms and promote the concept of medical tourism. Our current survey of medical tourist experiences of treatment abroad is one of these initiatives.

Another initiative is the development of a “Code of Practice for Medical Tourism”. You can find out more about what we are trying to achieve on the Code of Practice page on Treatment Abroad.

New health index means good news for medical tourism companies

The recently published Euro Health Consumer Index provides some interesting insights into the state of the UK health services and some encouragement for those who see the UK as a developing market for outbound medical tourists. The Index rates the public healthcare systems in 29 European countries on many factors such as clinical outcomes, quality of care, access to health services and patient information.

Austria emerges as the 2007 winner of the Euro Health Consumer Index, followed by the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Germany.

The UK comes a very disappointing 17th out of the 29 countries; its score is dragged down by waiting lists and uneven quality performance. Medical tourism destinations such as France, Belgium, Estonia, Cyprus, Spain and the Czech Republic all outscore the UK.

As a separate exercise, the Euro Health Consumer Index 2007 included a value for money adjusted score, the "Bang-For-the-Buck adjusted score", which attempts to measure the value for money which the consumer gets from the healthcare system allowing for the spend on public healthcare in the country.

More bad news for the UK National Health Service.....

The UK sinks to 26th out of 29. Only Bulgaria, Poland and Latvia do worse.

Despite the efforts of successive UK governments, the NHS continues to deliver value for money to UK health consumers.

And that's probably good news for medical tourism companies!

UK media gives medical tourism a favourable press

The UK press continues to provide plenty of coverage for medical tourism, the vast majority of which is incredibly positive. Whereas the media are usually quick to find the "bad news" story, this has certainly not been the case with medical tourism. The recent exception was this story "How my smile was ruined by a dodgy dentist" in the Daily Mail.

However, the UK media is, in general, giving medical tourism a favourable press:

The recent increases in UK patients traveling abroad are becoming somewhat of an enbarrassment for a Labour government which has invested significantly in the NHS in recent years. The Tory party have seen the opportunity:

"Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said the figures were a "terrible indictment" of government policies that were undermining the efforts of NHS staff to provide quality services."

Waiting times for operations, lack of access to new treatments and fears of MRSA and hospital infections are significant problems in the UK NHS.

And they all factors which will encourage more people to travel abroad for treatment......

You can see a regularly updated list of medical tourism news stories on Treatment Abroad.