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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 15:36 GMT
Would you go abroad for NHS treatment?
Nine people left Ashford in Kent on Friday morning on Eurostar to go to La Louviere hospital in Lille in France for cataract and joint operations.
They are the first patients to receive treatment in continental hospitals as an attempt to reduce NHS waiting lists.
Managers in the south-east of England plan to send 200 patients abroad at taxpayers' expense by the end of March.
The decision to use foreign hospitals to tackle waiting times was made by Health Secretary Alan Milburn last October, under pressure from a European court judgement three months earlier.
Judges said patients had the right to be referred elsewhere in the EU if they could not get treatment without "undue delay" in their home country.
Can this scheme work? Would you be happy to go abroad for NHS treatment?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Suzanne McMillan, N. Ireland (ex Japan)
Yes, this is the perfect time to go to France for treatment - just as the French doctors are about to go on strike. Vive la France!!
And why not? Surely this should be sold as a benefit of belonging to the EU (about time we had some benefits from it)?
As for those who continually advocate higher taxation, get real! The NHS will not improve as a result of more money, only through re-organisation. If most taxpayers were honest, they would say the same - we already pay enough.
Jim, UK and France
Yes definitely. I had a serious brain tumour several years ago which was removed in Hospital Insular in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. The treatment was immediate, no waiting and the results excellent. Thank God I was resident there at the time and eligible for treatment under the Spanish health system. I did not have to pay a penny.
It is not a failure of our healthcare system, it is an intelligent use of the global market. We can save lives and money by using the more efficient healthcare systems abroad. Britain is a rich country and we can shop around for our healthcare just as we do for everything else!
I live and work in Switzerland, during the past two years I have been in hospital here twice, both times I was treated very well although probably no better than if I had been treated in the UK. The only problem I can see is language - it can be a bit daunting when you are in an operating theatre and everyone around you is speaking in German !
My husband and I have both had major sudden illnesses here in Georgia; his treatment was poor, and mine was adequate only, but I know that it would not be the same in some other hospitals here. My dental treatment was unforgettably bad. The cost of the medical treatment was frightening, even though we had insurance, but that rarely covers everything, and does not include the cost of being off work. Dental health insurance is costly and has a very low ceiling. People here worry about getting older as the cost of insurance is very high. I know people who have lost their homes through being ill. Furthermore, many companies do not have insurance schemes, and those workers and unemployed people can rarely afford private health insurance which is even more expensive. There is limited public health, but most people avoid it like the plague. We had better health care in the Manchester area, but the waiting time for non-emergency treatment has been a disgrace for a long time. Our experience of Germany health care was excellent.
I would certainly go abroad for treatment, and regard that as a benefit of belonging to the EU. The other benefit is that it may shake up complacency about the NHS, and something might actually done to give it the major overhaul it needs.
My brother in law's brother lives in Norway. He recently had an accident resulting in multiple fractures to his arm. In hours of surgery the doctors painstakingly pieced his arm back together again and now it is as good as new. Discussing the operation with his former doctor in England, he asked the doctor how they would have gone about treating him here: "Oh, we'd probably have amputated your arm", was the reply.
Please add my name to the list of happy ex-pats who have had magnificent treatment abroad. As already mentioned, however, the key to better service is more money and more long-term investment. If Britain doesn't quite qualify for 3rd world status, it's definitely stuck in the lower half of the second world. Britain also pays out much more on defence than other European nations; how about exchanging some bombs for beds?
I am abroad (France) and it almost cost me my life. After a rugby accident I went to the Hopital Mignot, near Versailles. There, they missed a serious fracture to my 1st cervical vertebra. Having just recently left the UK, I was eligible for treatment under the NHS. Still in pain and certain that French doctors were at a total loss, I went to the UCH where they immediately diagnosed the problem. I was operated on by a skilled team of surgeons and almost 20 years on I am still overwhelmed by the care and attention I received from all nursing and hospital staff.
Surely this is what a Federal Europe is all about. The ability of the population to move about freely whether it be for employment, retirement home, education etc. France has spent tax money wisely on the Heath Care system and if they have the space and manpower to treat patients from other countries then fine so long as the national governments of the patients country pay, being that they have taken the tax off the patient already.
The UK is brilliant at some things, oddly enough nothing that the government has a hand in, such as banking and finance.
There is no difference now between going to the next county or the next EU country in the search for better service.
The British have the health service they deserve. For five years at a time they moan about how awful the NHS is, then they go and elect a bunch of people who promise to revolutionise the NHS with "efficiency savings". Regardless of where the money comes from - tax, fees or private insurance - people in other developed countries all spend more, let the professionals make the big decisions (not quangos with mindless initiatives) and get a better service.
This is: embarrassing, humiliating, scandalous and a sorry day for the UK.
To behave like this as private citizens is OK - but not under NHS procedures. It demonstrates once again an open defeat and failure of services within what used to be called Great Britain. We don't rule the waves anymore! French missiles were used against us in the Falklands. What next Tony?
Sorry, I must have missed something.. We're part of a European (and global) market; we buy and sell something as basic as food - so why not healthcare? If the French national health service plus transport is cheaper than UK private and quicker than UK NHS - isn't this a complete no-brainer? I'll happily accept non-UK treatment whilst the "rule-Britannia brigade" suffer and die on waiting lists!
R Snape, England
Anthony (England) - congratulations on being the UK's most perfect human being!
Mind you don't get in the way of any carless motorists.
Most illness in the UK is actually self-inflicted. Waiting lists are full of smokers, careless motorists, alcoholics and obese patients. Maybe the NHS crisis will make people face up to the fact that their health is largely in their own hands. Start walking to work or using a bike. Take exercise and don't overeat. Be satisfied with who you are and what you've achieved. I think private medical insurance with higher premiums for smokers and drinkers would help rescue our NHS before we subcontract the whole lot to the French.
If you need treatment, then surely anyone would be willing to go wherever they had to to obtain that treatment?.
Many respondents have commented on the higher levels of spending on health care in Europe, and on the higher levels of taxation required to fund that spending. Is there in fact any evidence to support this?, just because Income Tax and/or Social Insurance (may) be higher in France, it does not mean that the overall level of taxation is higher, what about Alcohol and Tobacco taxes, not to mention local authority charges, these are all forms of taxation. How about a level playing field comparison, then we can really put some pressure on our politicians to actually do something about the problems of the NHS. If our newspapers produced some factual information of this kind, instead of filling their pages with irrelevant news about one drunken teenager, we might just get some action.
What? Competition for the antiquated DHSS (Dept of Stealth and Total Obscurity)? Now this won't do! A lot of Brits are already paying twice by having compulsory health taxes and private insurance, so what's wrong with paying for the ambulance to mainland Europe as well? There is another solution! Go totally private, its cheaper, more efficient and tax free, in fact you should have a tax break for all health care costs, that's what we do here and it works!
Wake up Brits its never too late!
John ex-pat Ca USA
Kristin Grantham, German/live in UK
Go abroad for surgery? Think about that for just a second. This is Great Britain we're talking about! And its health care is so bad that its citizens need to go abroad to have surgery. With the best of intentions, the UK has wrecked its health care system. When will the British wake up and accept the fact that the world is as it is, and not as we might want it to be? Ignore the realities of life, and you get the NHS.
This government will use every trick in the book to get us into Europe, even the sick and the lame.
Please get something straight. It is a European distortion that the uninsured in America are denied medical treatment. Also the quality of care is unsurpassed, just as any of our Canadian friends who either queue up for medical treatment or as professionals seek positions within the us healthcare industry. I recall a time in the mid-90s when people over the age of 72 were denied treatment in British emergency rooms. Talk about a nightmare scenario, but then the British seem to lack any sense of introspection. My advice to people seeking treatment in France is make sure they are not on strike at that particular time.
The health system is clearly suffering from chronic under funding and shortages of specialists in many areas. The recent comparison with Kaiser healthcare in the USA has also shown that it is simply not true that the NHS offers 'value for money'. It is very inefficient and service provision is declining. Having grown up in Canada, where there is an excellent public healthcare system, I would not hesitate to go to France or elsewhere for my knee operation. I wonder if Railtrack could get me as far as the Channel Tunnnel though!
It's time for New Labour to adopt the priorities that the electorate have: healthcare, education and transport. Other countries' governments manage to play an important role in international affairs without abandoning all care and attention of domestic issues, so why can't ours?
I would go abroad but I shouldn't have to. We should be able to provide health care for our own citizens. Claims that with modern treatments being expensive this is not possible anymore, seems to me to be just an excuse. Other European countries can provide good health care for their citizens, there is therefore no reason to suspect we can't through anything other than the lack of will to do what's necessary. We should look at how other countries manage to provide successful health care and take similar steps here.
I had to have medical treatment whilst working in Germany. The system was fast and efficient, to the extent that, meeting with the consultant two days after being referred, I thought that my German was bad until I realised that the doctor was actually saying "when would it be convenient for you to come in for the operation"!! The treatment was excellent.
I am a medical student in the UK and i have read the comments here with much interest. I would defend the NHS to a point. There is a certain degree of the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence in a lot of the above comments. The NHS has big problems, we all know and acknowledge that. However, have any of you considered what it would be like without it? Or if you had to pay for health insurance? There are many conditions that mean you cannot get health insurance in the US which we treat as a matter of course in this country.
The problems are slowly being addressed, more money is going in, more doctors and nurses are being trained, but it will take time. It takes several years to train each, and to make a significant impact will take a long time. Going abroad from a patient point of view is an excellent idea as long as it is cheaper than private healthcare over here and it is reducing waiting times.
Other European countries have their problems too and they pay more taxes for it.
We have a choice, we either increase taxes or we have to be grateful for what we have.
As a Brit who has lived in France for the last ten years, I have experience of both systems. In that time, neither I nor my wife have ever known anyone who has waited for treatment - if something needs doing, you just make an appointment with a specialist of your choice and it gets done quickly, normally on a date to suit your own convenience. However, the French have a very different attitude towards paying for their medical care. They pay when they visit a doctor and are reimbursed a few weeks later by the social security.
Most treatments are not fully reimbursed, so it is practically an obligation for everyone to have a private health insurance policy to cover the difference. This is funded partly by the employer and partly by the employee. People on very low incomes have this second policy funded by the state, but it represents a non-negligeable cost for everyone else, who also have to pay out of general taxation. The fundamental problem with the British system is that for decades, politicians of all parties have insisted that the NHS should provide care which is free at the point of use, while at the same time fighting elections on tax issues, so we are now in a situation where the world's fourth largest economy has to export patients abroad and trawl the world looking for doctors and nurses because it is unable to train enough of its own.
The NHS needs fundamental reform, both in the way it is financed and in the way it is run, and the need is urgent because it is going to take a long time. The reason that the French have a better health service than we do is very simple: it is because they are prepared to pay for it and we are not.
That said, I was given two hours to live after a serious motorbike crash, was airlifted, and spent two weeks in intensive care - the NHS saved my life.
Should we have to pay for gourmet food when beans on toast will suffice?
The scheme can work, but we should not be in this position to be even considering it. And, yes I would consider using the scheme because a change is as good as a break.
Grab it while you can. The French pay lot higher taxes for their world class health service, and they may soon start to complain about us Brits taking up their hospital beds
I've told everybody who knows me that if I'm hurt the first call is to my travel agent. I'm happy to suffer until I make it to Paris or New York.
I've lived in Tuscany for twenty years but come back to Wiltshire frequently. Case One: Recently a British friend, male, gave up and 'went private' after waiting for twenty-two months for a hip replacement. The cost was, for him, ruinous, and will seriously compromise his quality of life for years to come. The after-care on the NHS's shilling was execrable. At nearly the same time an Italian friend in Florence, also an OAP, needed the same operation. Six weeks after his family physician's recommendation it was successfully done by the Italian NHS, and he received superb after-care and physiotherapy for the next four months.
Case Two: A friend in the north of England waited seven months before being told that surgery on his hypertrophied prostate had been put off for another four months. He was by then suffering great distress. On the recommendation of friends he secured the necessary papers for medical coverage throughout the European Union,
came to Italy, and within eleven days of his arrival had a successful operation without any negative sequel. I refrain from comment.
Would I go abroad? Yes. Should I have to? No - we should be able to treat all but the rarest conditions in the UK.
Having had my NHS operation cancelled on four occasions (July, September, November 2001 and Jan 2002) as well as being sent to a private hospital by the NHS where the equipment was not suitable for my operation, I would go anywhere, anytime for my operation.
I would be more than happy to go abroad for an operation, after having faced the poor services in the UK. I'm 31 years old, and recently went into hospital to have my appendix out. It was my first ever hospital stay, and it was awful. I was on a ward with five other women, not one of them under 80 years old. One was clearly in the later stages of dementia, but there were no geriatric beds available for her.
On the second night, the lady in the bed next to mine started to breathe noisily, so I called the nurse. Ten minutes later the lady died. The nurse then calmly pulled the curtains around the bed and left the lady there for the night!
I can't believe that any other European country would make patients spend eight hours in the same room as a corpse, so as far as I'm concerned they can send me where they like as long as it's not in the UK!
My total tax bill each month is approximately 50% of my earnings. Therefore, if Britain wants to have a health system on par with countries like Germany, then there is no point in asking to pay fewer taxes every time there is a general election. If we want better services, we have to pay for it.
I have already had an operation abroad - a cervical laminectomy. I went to Paris for a five-day break last March and found, by chance, that I had sustained a life-threatening injury from a fall downstairs two and a half years before (in November 1998), which had never been diagnosed despite pleading with GPs and consultants to take my concerns seriously (I was having to depend more and more on crutches and increasingly had to make use of a wheelchair). The treatment I received in Paris was first-rate - and my doctors continue to take an interest in my progress, which is more than I can say for their British counterparts.
After two and a half months in hospital in France, the NHS insisted I came back to this country - but then couldn't provide the appropriate on-going treatment I needed to give me a proper chance of walking independently again. If the NHS is to send patients abroad for their operations, then they must let them stay on for appropriate post-operative treatment if that cannot be provided here in Britain.
I am now faced with the agonising choice of either selling my home here near Dover (where I live with my 14-year-old son and attempt to make some sort of a living from freelance translation and interpreting work)in order to fund a return to France to have a chance of walking again, or staying here and remaining disabled for the rest of my life. This "exciting initiative" by the NHS is really a can of worms.
Whatever people think about this, I can't help noticing that so far nobody has expressed any gratitude to this hospital in France. Perhaps the French have said 'yes' so that they can take over the British NHS as they have 'taken over' the EU?
I ended up paying for the same treatment, and had the surgery within a week. Dentistry is even worse, I have received a lot of treatment in the US recently, to fix issues that UK dentists screwed up. The NHS is an outdated, expensive, failing institution.
People going abroad for treatment will see the standards others in the EU take for granted. However, they must realise this has been achieved through private medicine, not healthcare in the hands of politicians. If it makes people think about whether the state-run NHS hasn't perhaps outlived its usefulness, then it will be a good thing.
I look forward to seeing ministers in the UK Government going abroad for operations when needed. Or perhaps they queue-jump in the UK on private health plans (very new-Labour, don't you think?)
Why not? If there is excess capacity abroad, and the expertise, and the NHS is paying, I do not see a problem. It's better than waiting.
No you should not have to go abroad but surely if it speeds up the process you should go for it. I have lived in France for 18 months and am so impressed with the Health service here that I would always want to be treated here. The cost is high but we pay for it through our Social Security and Insurance arranged through the Company.
I am surprised that sending people abroad is cheaper than paying private hospitals in the UK. However innovation is required to solve the problems we are facing with the NHS, so well done for coming up with some ideas and not just whining about the costs as the last Conservative government did. I have no problem in theory but think that to rely on this in the future, as a solution would be foolish.
I am sick of the bleating and moaning on the internet and in the right wing press all this week. I reckon there is a conspiracy by the right, to try and destabilise the government. My husband who is now 75, had emergency heart by pass two years ago, and was treated with compassion, skill and after care in the home. I could go on and on, but if there were an emergency operation needed and it could only take place abroad, I would be a liar if I said I wouldn't take it up.
Then it wouldn't be NHS would it? It would be F(oreign)HS. The NHS is a religion and a faith and like all religions one is a sinner unless one believes! When Europe becomes politically integrated will we then have EHS? Sending people abroad is the first step towards a new religion in a new nation....unless we change our faith!
For years, and with each successive government, the NHS has been under funded, the staff denigrated and undervalued. Their pay scales have been gradually eroded in comparison with other public service workers.
What we should be asking the public is whether we are all willing to pay the increased taxes that our European neighbours do to fund the recovery.
I would have to think very carefully before accepting treatment in a third-world country.
What a shame. We have a similar situation here in the states with Canada. However, there is an interesting twist. You have people in Canada who come here for medical treatments/operations to avoid the long delays there. On the flip side, there are many un-insured Americans living along the border states that will go to Canada for free E.R. / triage attention. What's the solution???
Our national services are a complete disgrace. For a country that is supposed to have the fourth richest economy in the world we are not doing a great job. I'm sure this is incredibly amusing for the Europeans. And they say the Germans don't have a sense of humour!
I've worked abroad for seven of the last eight years, in four different countries, and most ex-pat colleagues I've known have tried to get medical problems sorted out before going back to the UK if they possibly could. I had an op here in Poland at the beginning of December - no waiting time, an excellent consultant, single en-suite room with TV for the two nights I was in hospital.
If I was living in the UK I would definitely go abroad for medical treatment - why on earth suffer for months on end, when it can be sorted out so much more quickly, in much better conditions in a country that really need not be so far away from home? Life's too precious to waste on unnecessary suffering, which is what the NHS in its current state is inflicting all too often.
Nathan Dale, England
I once had to have surgery on a smashed up thumb at the University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland, following a skiing accident. They were very good and when I got back to Britain, the orthopaedic doctor commented on how thorough the Swiss had been. I then asked him what he would have done. "Oh, we would probably have just shoved it all back together and hoped for the best," he said. Enough said.
I would have to be in a very bad way before I took advantage of it, because there is no place like home when you are ill.
I have no problems with the concept of treatment abroad but am concerned that this option would only be made available for a minority: those who could afford to travel, those who live in the south, those with less life-threatening conditions and so on.
As the British health service is in an absolute mess I will gladly have treatment abroad even if I end up paying for it.
Albert Gravney, UK
I would travel abroad for treatment. We must view this as one of the benefits of being part of the EU.
It's a wonderful idea. I have a knee operation in France next week and have never been there. I am quite looking forward to it.
Watch it, people may become even more dissatisfied with the NHS once they've experienced French hospitals with their single or double rooms. No ghastly mixed wards here. You can rent a TV in your room, choose your menu and get the resident hairdresser or beautician to come and spruce you up.
It's excellent news. The thought of an operation is rather quite depressing but to combine it with a nice trip abroad is enough to make anyone happy.
Why should I go abroad? I have paid National Insurance almost all my life and would expect the British NHS to be able to cater for my needs in the event of requiring an operation. Fortunately I have private healthcare so I don't have to worry about this anyway. Others, however, are not so fortunate.
No way. I belong in England and our health system should be up to standard. And besides I hate international gourmet. This way forward is barking mad!
The question should not be would you go abroad but can you afford to stay in the UK and get sicker and sicker until you die? The NHS is not just a joke in the UK, it is also a constant source of amusement for Europeans.
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