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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
GPs urged to send patients abroad
eye operation
The company is offering to fly patients for operations abroad
A company is offering to send patients to South Africa for private hospital treatment - at half the cost of the same operation in the UK.

The scheme aims to offer patients an alternative to long NHS waiting lists.

The company behind the scheme, Garden Route Medicare, is offering GPs up to 60 to compensate them for time spent form-filling.

It said the payments will cover legitimate expenses and are in no way an inducement or incentive to GPs to refer patients to them.

It is unethical for doctors to be paid over and above their expenses for referring a patient for a particular treatment.

The doctor could face disciplinary action by the General Medical Council, which might even lead to him or her being struck off.

More and more patients are turning to foreign hospitals to have operations for which they might wait for years on the NHS.

For example, there is a long wait for cataract removal operations in the UK, and many patients have found it an acceptable alternative to travel into Europe for the simple procedure.

Some patients have gone as far as India to have the operations at low cost.

'Positive response'

Rob Gee, who set up Garden Route Medicare, said: "I have had a fairly positive response from the GPs I have spoken to.

"The money is simply to cover expenses - I don't want the GP to be out of pocket."

He said the service would probably be restricted to less invasive procedures from which the patient would not need a long recovery time before returning to the UK.

Even so, and including the cost of air fares and accommodation, the cost of some treatments could be only half the equivalent private fee in the UK.

Private fees in South Africa are low partly because of the strong Pound, said Mr Gee.

Dr Lawrence Buckman, a member of the British Medical Association (BMA) GPs' committee, said he could understand why any patient facing a long wait might want to go abroad.

But he said: "It's terrible because the NHS should be able to provide a good enough service to help these people.

"The problem for a doctor referring someone to somewhere like South Africa is that you have very little idea who you are referring them to.

"If you are getting expenses that is one thing - but you would have to do an awful lot to justify 60."

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See also:

09 Apr 00 | Health
Third World plan to save NHS
14 Mar 00 | Health
NHS in crisis
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