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BMA Conference Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Doctors' concern at overseas care plan
A busy hospital ward
Overcrowded wards and waiting lists plague the NHS
Doctors have criticised plans to send British heart patients to overseas hospitals on the NHS if they have waited for more than six months for treatment in the UK.

British Medical Association chairman Dr Ian Bogle said it signalled turning short term plans to ease NHS pressure into a permanent policy.

Speaking on the eve of the BMA conference at Harrogate, Dr Bogle warned the move could erode financial resources which should be spent on treating patients in Britain.

Dr Ian Bogle BMA chairman
Dr Ian Bogle says foreign treatment must not be 'long term'
"This last initiative was announced as a long term initiative and this could be to the detriment of the current health service providers in the trust," he said.

"We had considered that in the short term, while we had capacity problems in the health service, this initiative might be alright - but in the short term,"

He voiced concerns from doctors about the policy, which is due to come into effect on Monday.

After care

Some said they were worried about the standards and practicability of after-care when patients are treated abroad.

Others were concerned that the policy was a waste of NHS resources.

Dr Peter Dangerfield, Liverpool University, said: "This money will no longer be within our own hospital service.

"In the long term it could well be very detrimental to the development of the hospital service for new facilities and new treatments."

It is an extension of a current policy which was piloted in January this year.

Nine people from Ashford in Kent travelled to the La Louviere clinic in Lille, France.

La Louviere clinic, Lille, France
NHS patients went to La Louviere clinic, Lille, France
They were treated for cataract and joint operations in the first use of continental hospitals to provide NHS care.

Doctors' concerns came as a MORI poll for the BMA revealed four out of 10 of those surveyed said they would be willing to travel outside the UK for treatment.

And just over half said they felt involving other organisations, including the private sector, would improve the provision of NHS health care.

But some doctors believe the policy should receive a caution welcome.

"It is a stop gap. It is dealing with a back log and getting our waiting times down," said Dr Jim Hall, a cardiologist at James Cook University Hospital.

"Anything that feeds into that process we have got to be in favour of."

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The BBC's Gill Higgins
"The gravity of these questions suggest real concern"
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10 Jan 02 | England
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