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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 17:52 GMT
English patient pioneers Greek NHS ops
Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is better known by the British as a tourist destination
By Daniel Howden in Athens

A retired textile worker from Stockport has blazed a trail for thousands of Britons stuck on NHS waiting lists by undergoing a knee operation at a hospital in Greece.


I feel as if I'm Captain Kirk - everything here is so modern and sophisticated

Pioneer patient John McCumisky
By March, planeloads of British patients could be following in his footsteps to Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, if they opt to trade their place on year-long NHS waiting lists for treatment in sunnier climes.

"I feel as if I'm Captain Kirk," a delighted John McCumisky told the BBC after undergoing a full knee replacement at the Interbalkan European Medical Centre. "Everything here is so modern and sophisticated."

Under an agreement signed earlier this month with Stockport-based firm Operations Abroad Ltd, the NHS is set to cut waiting lists by offering patients the chance to undergo treatment in other European countries.


They will undergo an operation and then complete their rest and recuperation in Greece

Kenneth Taylor
Operations Abroad
Mr McCumisky, 69, paid for the treatment as a private patient, but his fortnight in Greece is being used as a dry run for patients due to make the switch from state waiting lists.

"Basically his experience will be identical to that of the NHS patients," said Operations Abroad general manager Kenneth Taylor. "They will undergo an operation and then complete their rest and recuperation in Greece."

The Health Department's controversial plans to send 100,000 patients for treatment outside the UK is good news for the Interbalkan European Medical Centre, which expects to take one-quarter of the total case-load.

English patients arrive in at French hospital for treatment
English patients have already been treated in Lille
Mr McCumisky had been on an NHS waiting list for nine months prior to making the decision to go private after the pain in his knee became more than he could bear.

"The wife heard about it on the radio and my son gave them a call and that was on 12 January. They asked me if I was ready to go the following Monday and here I am," he said.

The 6,900 bill for the operation includes flights, transfers for the McCumiskys and post-operation treatment for up to three weeks depending on his condition.

Initially the hospital will only treat non-acute conditions such as hernias, joint replacements and cataracts, but Operations Abroad predict that cardiac operations on British patients could begin as early as June.


They don't muck about - as well as my knee I've had a full body check, heart, the lot

John McCumisky
Mr McCumisky and his wife have yet to run into the expected language barrier in the hospital.

"All the people speak English and so far everyone's been very helpful," he said.

"They don't muck about - as well as my knee I've had a full body check, heart, the lot. I've had about 10 doctors in to see me since I arrived."

The McCumiskys feel the treatment in Greece compares favourably with their experience of the strained resources of the local NHS doctors.


An 'English ward' is being prepared to welcome the NHS influx with English newspapers and English food

"When I saw a specialist in Stockport you could tell I was the last patient of the day and they weren't interested in my condition. This is the first time I felt as I really got the doctor's attention,"

The 70 million privately-owned hospital opened last year and has, in the words of spokeswoman Regina Loukeri, "nothing whatsoever in common with hospitals in the Greek state sector."

An "English ward" is being prepared to welcome the NHS influx with English newspapers and English food in a bid to make patients comfortable in their new surroundings.

Mrs Roukeri did, however, confirm that the traditional English breakfast would not be on the menu.

"It's just not healthy for anyone," she said.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | Health
All aboard the NHS express
06 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Patients 'to pick' their hospital
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