Health tourists flock to India
A SCOTS travel firm set up to organise stag parties is sending health tourists to the Third World for cheap, fast surgery they cannot get in the UK.
Globe Health Tours - which usually provides entertainment for stag weekends - has already sent 30 patients to hospitals in India, where private surgery is a fraction of the price charged by UK clinics.
Patients, who combine surgery with an exotic holiday, travel for dental implants, hip and knee replacements and cosmetic surgery at hospitals in Dehli, Mumbai, Kerala, Goa, Bangalore and Ghana.
NHS waiting lists for some procedures are still up to six months and private clinics in the UK charge pay-as-you-go patients up to 10,000 for hip or knee replacements. But those prepared to travel to India can have the same operations for less than 3,500.
Globe Health Tours, whose staff normally organise entertainment ranging from clay pigeon shooting to entry to lap-dancing clubs, began sending patients abroad 12 months ago.
Sholto Ramsay, a director of the firm, insisted he only sends patients to hospitals with the highest standards. "People are coming to us because they are sick of the NHS waiting list and have decided to get on with it themselves," he said. "This is not for you if your only thought is to save money. But it does work if you are thinking about having a holiday."
He added: "If you are getting dental implants, for example, it's one day of surgery then the next day you have pretty much got over it and you can have a few days of holiday. It suits women who want cosmetic treatment such as a tummy tuck or a nose job and don't want people to know about it."
Growing numbers of patients are bypassing the NHS either by paying for private insurance or paying for treatment out of their own pockets. Scots without private health insurance spent 25m from their savings on operations last year.
Ramsay said: "We started off organising stag parties then got into this after talking to some doctors. It's the same thing except with a clinical aspect added on."
But Dr Peter Kerry, chairman of the BMA Scotland, said: "Sometimes the training of staff will not be up to the standards we insist on here. Even if the surgeons are fully trained, other staff might not be. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be a risk. It's not advisable to fly long distances after major surgery and DVT is one of the reasons for it.
"With the General Medical Council [we have] one of the best-regulated systems in the world. What happens if something goes wrong? Will they fly you back for an adjustment or will it have to be dealt with by the NHS here?"
SNP health spokeswoman Shona Robison said: "The fact that we now have this company based in Scotland is a sign of the times because people are waiting too long for NHS treatment."
Margaret Davidson, chief executive of the Scotland Patients' Association, said: "If patients want to travel abroad for treatment, and they feel they are safe doing so, and they can afford to, then they should do so. It is just unfair that they are not able to get that service in the UK."
When doctors told Stuart Shaw he needed a hip replacement he was faced with a six-month wait or a 9,000 bill from a private hospital. Suffering excruciating pain, the 67-year-old decided to travel to India instead. He paid less than 4,000 for the operation, including his travel expenses and five weeks in hospital.
Shaw said: "I had heard about people travelling abroad for treatment so I made some enquiries and got booked into a clinic in Ahmedabad where I was treated by one of the top surgeons in the country.
"I had five weeks in the sun and a room with a three-piece suite. The food and the staff were wonderful and I paid a fraction of the cost that I would have in the UK."
"I would definitely think about doing it again," he added. "The only downside is not having someone with you when you are out there."
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