BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 11:37 GMT
Greek hospital courts UK patients
A patient is treated at the Interbalkan Medical Centre
The hospital is far beyond the reach of average Greeks
By Daniel Howden in Thessaloniki

A Greek hospital is bidding to become the largest single destinaton for British patients sent abroad for treatment to reduce hospital queues at home.

The Interbalkan Medical Centre
The hospital is strictly for profit

The Interbalkan Medical Centre is a marble and granite palace of a building, complete with a grand piano and a fountain in reception.

Glass elevators glide up and down the spine of the building, and its plush restaurant - which it has in place of a canteen - enjoys a reputation for excellence in the region.

The hospital is far beyond the reach of most Greek people, and the arrival of UK patients paid for by their government risks stirring local resentment.

Welcome break

The two-year-old, 114m-euro ($98m) centre is not just impressively plush, its medical facilities rival the best in the world.

The Interbalkan has nothing whatsoever in common with state-run hospitals

Hospital spokeswoman Regina Loukeri
The Interbalkan signed an exclusive agreement in December with Stockport-based company Operations Abroad which hopes to take up to 25,000 National Health Service (NHS) patients from the UK to the Greek hospital before the end of the year.

"NHS patients coming here are going to have a big shock," said John McCumisky, the centre's first British patient who underwent a knee operation last week that could act as a dry run for thousands of Britons needing operations.

"Things here are so sophisticated and modern," said Mr McCumisky, 69, from the bed of his fourth-floor room overlooking the Thermaic Gulf.

Greek dream

But despite extended rounds of talks, Operations Abroad have yet to clinch a deal with the UK's Department of Health.

A spokeswoman for the department said there were currently no plans to send NHS patients to Greece, though the possibility has not been ruled out.

Even I've never been treated at a hospital like this

Apostopoulos Group spokesman Anthony Rapp
This is the context for an all-expenses-paid visit for UK journalists this week, arranged by the hospital, with five-star accommodation thrown in.

The importance of the NHS influx to the Interbalkan has been underlined by plans to create "English wards".

English newspapers and food will be brought in, a spokesperson told the BBC, and NHS patients will be housed in their own separate areas.

It is not what most Greek patients are accustomed to.

"Even I've never been treated at a hospital like this," admitted Anthony Rapp, senior spokesman for the hospital's owners, the Apostolopoulos Group.

Hospital spokeswoman Regina Loukeri said: "The Interbalkan has nothing whatsoever in common with state-run hospitals."


A clash between the Greece's Socialist government and doctors' unions last week over defections from state hospitals, highlighted the growing gulf between public and private healthcare in the country.

The hospital's food is renowned in the region
Research has consistently shown that Greeks are less satisfied with their health system than any of their EU counterparts and the arrival of thousands of Britons at the Interbalkan is expected to raise hackles.

The Apostolopoulos group has cashed in on this discontent, drawing increasing numbers of the country's affluent middle classes away from state-sponsored care over the last 20 years.

Part of the US-managed global network of the Blue Cross-Blue Shield the Apostolopoulos family have received high-level political backing in both Athens and London.

The Greek embassy in London hosted a December ceremony in which the group's agreement with Operations Abroad was sealed.

Meanwhile, Mr George Doukas MBE, Honorary British Consul for Thessaloniki, will talk to the visiting British journalists on behalf of the healthcare group on Tuesday.

Mrs Loukeri admitted that the injection of cash and patients from the NHS is crucial to the success of the Interbalkan.

She added: "Performing at capacity is key to our ability to operate 30-40% more cheaply than the competition elsewhere in Europe."

See also:

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

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories