Friday, October 9, 2009

How safe is surgery abroad?

About 100,000 Brits paid for private dental and medical work abroad last year. But how big are the risks? Your Life investigates..
A growing number of Britons are flying overseas looking for cheaper, and often faster, medical treatment. And they are not just after breast implants and tummy tucks...
The latest trend is for dental work. This is not surprising as, according to the Citizens' Advice Bureau, seven million British adults don't have access to a dentist.
The problem became worse in 2006 when new dental contracts were introduced and 1,000 dentists left the NHS.
"With high treatment costs and a shortage of NHS dentists, it's no wonder people are going abroad," says Keith Pollard, managing director of Treatment Abroad, a medical tourism information provider.
"In Hungary - the top spot for dental tourism - a root canal costs £104 compared to the average UK price of £220." According to Treatment Abroad, last year 43 per cent of medical tourists from the UK had dental treatment, 29 per cent cosmetic surgery, 18 per cent for other operations such as hip replacements, and 10 per cent for fertility treatment.
Why do it?
"People are going private because of the problems around affordable dental treatment, NHS waiting times," says Mr Pollard.
"Treatment is also cheaper abroad - even including travel and accommodation costs."
Research carried out by the official International Passenger Survey, which questions UK citizens leaving all airports and ports, shows that in 2004, 25,000 Brits travelled abroad for private health care.
In 2007, this figure had jumped to 100,000.
How risky is it?
"Of 650 people who took part in our Medical Tourist Survey 2007, 97 per cent said they would pay for surgery abroad again and 20 per cent believed they'd saved around £10,000," says Keith.
But what about the rest? "There are no statistics for the numbers of operations that go wrong," says Dr Anthony Halperin, chairman of the national charity The Patients' Association.
"As a dentist, I've done repair work on people who've had botched treatment abroad and it's not uncommon. I've also heard of people who have had other surgery, which has gone horribly wrong."
Dr Lorraine Ishak, clinical director of a leading UK cosmetic surgery group, adds: "We're increasingly seeing more patients who've had a bad experience abroad. Across the industry, 33 per cent of surgeons have seen 'much more' repair work over the past five years, due to cosmetic surgery abroad.
A total of 92 per cent of surgeons surveyed by the British Association Of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) said they're most concerned with the lack of aftercare provided."
Dr Halperin adds: "This lack of aftercare is one of the many reasons why the Patients' Association advises people to think carefully before booking treatment abroad.
You need to consider that often the first time you meet your surgeon is the day of your treatment. There may be a language barrier and minimal access in the event of an emergency.
"The British Medical Association has also highlighted the dangers of flying too soon after major surgery."
Dr Ishak, of Transform Cosmetic Surgery, adds: "We offer a 24-hour telephone support line, as well as a doctor and surgeon on call at all times. Overseas providers aren't able to offer patients this level of care. Standards are often less stringent abroad than in the UK. You need to be able to trust the facilities and your surgeon's skill and qualifications."
What if it goes wrong?
"You have no rights, only the right to legal redress - which means you would have to sue the foreign surgeon or clinic. This is complicated in the UK, let alone abroad," explains Dr Halperin.
"Guarantees often aren't worth the paper they're written on. Usually the small print states that it's void unless you have regular check-ups afterwards.
Most people don't fly back for these routine appointments. Also, no firm will insure you against something going wrong due to the high risks involved."
A spokesperson from the Department of Health adds: "We strongly advise people having surgery abroad to do their research and make sure they're clear about prices, procedures, recovery times and aftercare."
Before you pay up..
If you do want to go abroad, Dr Halperin says...
Check the clinic has a phone number and address, not just a website . Organisations should make it easy for you to contact them.
Check that the surgeon speaks good English.
Ask about recovery times and what happens if there are complications either straight after surgery or after you return to the UK.
Ask for a copy of the surgeon's and the clinic's insurance certificates in English.
Check the clinic is registered with the medical statutory body of that country. For instance, in the UK it's the General Medical Council.


Daniel said...

I run a British dental clinic abroad in Piestany spa, Slovakia ( and can certainly say that Brits going abroad for dental treatment such as crowns and dental implants is a fast growing trend here in Europe. Not only to save money and time but also to receive access to some of the most experienced dentists within the European Union.

Refindyourway said...

I think that medical tourism is a unique solution for many British people since if well organized it can be a life saver as well as money saver.