Do concerns about MRSA and hospital infection drive patients abroad?

Medical tourists who travel abroad for treatment, don't just do it to save money. In our soon to be published "Medical Tourism Survey", 56% of the respondents who went for elective surgery abroad said that worries about the risk of MRSA/hospital infection in NHS hospitals were a "Very Important" or "Quite Important" factor.

According to the Health Protection Agency's latest data, there was an 18 per cent drop in cases of MRSA in England from July to September compared to the previous quarter (April to June). This is a drop of about 230 cases per quarter. however, there were still 1,072 cases reported in England during July to September 2007 .

The latest C. difficile figures show that there were 10,734 cases in patients aged 65 years and over in England, reported in the third quarter of 2007. This is a 21% decrease on the previous quarter. In patients between 2 and 64 years of age, 2,496 C. difficile cases were reported in the third quarter of 2007.

So.... there is some indication that the NHS is having some success in improving its poor reputation for hospital infection. But there's an awfully long way to go. The UK is way behind countries such as Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Spain in controlling MRSA and hospital infection rates. (See MRSA statistics in UK and Europe).

Until the NHS can reduce hospital infection rates to a minimal level, patient concerns will continue to be a factor in why people choose treatment in private hospitals in the UK or treatment abroad.

EU Cross-border Healthcare Directive delayed

According to EurActiv, an independent media portal dedicated to EU affairs, the EU Cross-border Healthcare Directive which intends to lift restrictions on patients travelling for treatment in other EU countries could be either redrafted, withdrawn or downgraded.

The EU Cross-border Healthcare Directive has taken a couple of years to develop and was scheduled to go public on December 17th 2007. It became the main UK news story of the day (the EU had leaked early copies of the Directive to the media). But by midday, the EU had decided not to publish the Directive and announced a delay of 4 weeks or so in publication due to "agenda issues".

Methinks...that some governments including the UK were not too happy about the implications of the Directive and how it might place their own health system in a bad light as they became "exporters" of patients.

EurActiv believes that the Commission has been asked to redraft the Directive.

A representative of a medical stakeholders' organisation told EurActiv:

"This is an issue between the rich and poor EU member state. Health care costs vary widely across the EU, so it would be easier for rich countries to reimburse cheaper care abroad than for poor countries to reimburse their nationals seeking expensive care in wealthier countries."
According to a Commission spokeswoman, the proposal is still scheduled for publication at the "beginning of 2008".

High UK dental costs driving patients abroad

A new study has been published which compares the cost of providing dental treatment in nine European countries. The UK has the highest costs of dental treatment. (Note: the study compared the cost of providing dental treatment, not the prices that are charged to patients).

According to Siok Swan Tan of Erasmus University Rotterdam, the lead author of the study, differences in dentists' are the most important reason for the variation in costs. "They account for 70 per cent of total costs in England, and range from €0.09 per minute in Hungary to €2.88 a minute in England."

As a result prices for both NHS and private dental treatment in the UK are much higher than in other European countries. It's the main driver for the growth of dental tourism with Hungary the leading destination for UK patients.

The research is part of a wider European Commission study that compares the cost of medical procedure; the study was published in the journal Health Economics.

You can read a full report on the study on the Independent newspaper site. The story made front page news in the UK today.