UK patients turn away from NHS to medical tourism

2.65 million Britons have recently been or are planning to go abroad for medical treatment. The most common elective surgery procedures for outbound UK patients include hip replacements, knee replacements and cataract removal.

Most medical tourists go abroad to avoid paying for treatment not available on the NHS. However, if they previously had private medical cover they could have had these procedures done at no extra cost in the UK.

Without medical insurance, paying for a hip replacement privately in the UK can cost as much as £10,000. Abroad, the procedure itself will cost patients upwards of £3,000. However, the costs of having surgery abroad can add thousands onto this price if complications occur.

The possible complications of any operation include an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic, excessive bleeding or developing deep vein thrombosis, chances of which are greatly increased by long-haul flights.

Specific complications of hip replacement can include infection, joint dislocation, hip fracture, unstable joints and nerve damage. Last year, five patients died in NHS hospitals from NDM-1, a new superbug which is thought to have been imported by British health tourists who had surgery in India and in Pakistan.

In addition, on return to the UK, the NHS would not treat minor problems or long term problems related to the surgery.

An alternative option to medical tourism is to compare health insurance quotes. The average health insurance premium for a 30 year old is around £30 a month, totalling only £360 a year.

An average health insurance premium for a 65 year old is around £70 a month, totalling only £840 a year, perhaps lower with a discount scheme.

People with private medical insurance will receive that hip replacement without extra cost, in a private hospital of their choice, with a consultant of their choice.

Any complications will be fully covered, and they will be treated in a private room with excellent facilities. That £840 could also pay for cancer drugs too expensive for use on the NHS.

Dr Richard Theo, of health insurance comparison site, said: “India, one of the most popular destinations for medical tourists, has 6 physicians, 13 nurses, and 9 hospital beds for every 10,000 patients.

“In contrast, the UK has 27 physicians, 103 nurses and 34 hospital beds for every 10,000 patients. Health conscious patients should compare medical insurance quotes and take advantage of our excellent private healthcare system”.