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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 08:31 GMT
Britons head for South African hospitals
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is a sought-after destination for surgery
Hundreds of British patients are flying to South Africa for treatment to avoid NHS waiting lists in the UK.

The long-distance treatment is attracting those without private health insurance who are not prepared to face the long wait for treatment in Britain on the NHS.

In South Africa they are finding they can pay a fraction of the cost for their operations, says BBC correspondent Alistair Leithead.

The demand for treatment by British patients is so large that one private hospital in Cape Town has appointed a manager specifically to handle UK inquiries.

Prepared to pay

Over the last six months the number of Britons travelling to South Africa for hospital treatment has risen dramatically.

The treatment they are seeking ranges from major heart surgery and cancer operations, to cosmetic surgery.

"Around five patients a week are admitted from Britain, many people who don't have health insurance and would rather pay out of their own pockets than wait many months for free NHS treatment," said Alistair Leithead.

Some of the nine NHS patients at Lille hospital in France
In January nine NHS patients were treated in France
They are finding the treatment is cheaper, partly due to the exchange rate, he added.

It has been suggested that the NHS could send patients for treatment to South Africa.

But so far it is only those with the available cash who can afford to fly out for treatment.

The available space in some hospitals in South Africa comes from the fact that many people in the country cannot afford health care.

France

One hospital identified in Capetown, Groote Schuur Hospital, is said to be half empty.

The NHS started sending patients to France for treatment at the end of last year.

Nine NHS patients received treatment for cataracts and hip operations in a private hospital in Lille, France.

The Health Secretary Alan Milburn has said the NHS will continue to use hospitals abroad to help ease the pressure on waiting lists.

But he said the vast majority of patients will still be treated in the UK.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alastair Leithhead
"The number of patients gonig to South Africa has increased dramatically over the last six months"
See also:

28 Mar 02 | UK Politics
NHS getting better, insists Blair
06 Mar 02 | England
NHS goes private to cut queues
06 Mar 02 | Health
Drive to increase heart ops
19 Jan 02 | Health
English patients undergo surgery
26 Aug 01 | Health
NHS patients to be sent abroad
06 Dec 01 | Health
Patients 'to pick' their hospital
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