Whether it’s for a hip replacement, valve surgery or a simple rhinoplasty medical tourism is booming. Last year alone some £130m was spent on medical tourism procedures outside the UK. However, Britons are still in the Ryanair league compared to countries like the United States where 150,000 Americans jet off each year for long-haul procedures in countries as far away as India, Thailand, Argentina and Malaysia.
ut the UK is catching up, according to research by analyst Mintel. Their survey suggests that 12 per cent of Britons would consider surgery abroad because of the substantial savings - costing up to eighty per cent less in some cases - compared to private treatment in the UK. Dental surgery is the most common overseas procedure with around 20,000 Brits travelling to favourites such as Hungary and Poland for a better smile at around £2,500 a time.
Cosmetic surgery comes a close second with 14,500 of us shelling out for facelifts, breast augmentation and liposuction at a cost of £50 million each year. Those wishing to skip NHS waiting lists for elective surgery, the most frequent of which are joint replacements and cataract surgery, make up a further 10,000 patients spending £36 million.
Word-of-mouth is one of the main drivers for overseas treatment. International medical facilities are promoting good service and reward schemes to encourage ex-patients to recommend to friends. Jacqueline Wilson, a 48 year old Herefordshire housewife travelled to Gdansk in Poland for tooth veneers after first getting quotes from British dental surgeons. “Poland was nearly three thousand pounds less than the price I was quoted in Harley Street and I combined it with four-day spa holiday too,” she said. “The hospitals were clean, the operation fast and the staff were very pleasant and spoke English. I’d recommend the experience without question.”
Selling surgery Foreign governments and private firms have begun to realise the potential of medical tourism. Brits are being wooed abroad by development agencies such as the Singaporean government’s Singapore Medicine, which describes the UK’s ageing population as “a great potential to be tapped into”. Intermediary brokers are one of the big drivers for overseas treatment in what is a difficult process for potential patients to negotiate themselves. Dipa Jethwa, from the London-based Taj Medical Group, explained how they try to simplify medical treatment abroad for clients: “We liaise with the patient’s NHS consultant to obtain their clinical records. We then arrange flights, visas and their admission to hospital.”
Thailand’s Bumrungrad hospital is the number one international hospital in the world treating some 450,000 medical tourists annually. While the mainstay of treatment is joint replacement operations, Taj Medical is also benefiting from the obesity epidemic. “We are seeing an increase in the number of patients, particularly from the US and Canada requiring gastric banding surgery.” And it’s not just small brokers that are benefiting from the public’s new acceptance of private treatment overseas. High street tour operators such as Thomas Cook have realising the potential and have established partnerships with agencies like Taj Medical. Because of these new medical expectations centres in countries targeting medical tourists are no longer typical hospitals - they are ‘resort hospitals’ with enticing names such as Kuala Lumpur’s ‘Palace of the Golden Horses’. Thailand’s Bumrungrad hospital is the number one international hospital in the world treating some 450,000 medical tourists annually. To accommodate Westerners it has a specially built Starbucks in the reception and a pizzeria upstairs.
Junior DR magazine design and layout. Issue 15.