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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 21:10 GMT
Channel hop for knee surgery
John McCaul and Barbara Sturgess
The pair will be travelling to France next week
Two NHS patients have said they are "delighted" to be among the first to go abroad for their operations.

John McCaul and Barbara Sturgess will undergo knee joint replacement operations in Lille, France.

The operations come as part of the Government's pilot scheme, announced last August, to relieve pressure on NHS waiting lists in the UK.

The pair are two of 10 patients who were going through their final medical tests on Thursday before they go abroad next week.

In the short-term, using spare capacity in the UK private sector and elsewhere in Europe makes good sense

Peter Huntley, Channel Primary Care Group
They will be treated at Lille's La Louviere Hospital.

It is expected that 200 patients will be treated during the pilot before it ends in March this year.

There are three areas of the country being used for the project - all in the south east of England - that allows only those requiring minor operations to be treated outside the UK.

Speaking at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent, Mr McCaul, 64, from the Portsmouth area, said he got a place on the pilot by answering a newspaper advert.

Mr McCaul said: "I would have had it in this country but the beds were a problem.

"I found out just before Christmas and it was the best present I had."

Ms Sturgess, 63, from Dover in Kent, who has been waiting for her operation for 12 months, said she was "highly delighted" to be going to France.

Peter Huntley, co-ordinator of treatment abroad project
Peter Huntley: project increases "treatment options"
"I'm really looking forward to having the operation and not having the pain," she said.

Peter Huntley, chief executive of the Channel Primary Care Group and treatment abroad project co-ordinator, said the two patients would spend a further five to seven days in France after the operations for recuperation.

Mr Huntley said: "The Government's 10-year strategy is to build a fairer, faster and patient-centred NHS.

"But it will take some time to significantly increase capacity within the NHS, so in the short-term, using spare capacity in the UK private sector and elsewhere in Europe makes good sense.

"Over the past few weeks we have been working hard to identify the right, top quality hospitals in France and Germany that have the capacity to treat NHS patients."

He explained no hospitals would be used that provides treatment of lower quality than the NHS.

Reduces waiting

"And of course, nobody will be forced to accept treatment abroad," he continued.

"Some people will be pleased to get the opportunity of early treatment abroad, others may be less keen.

"The important thing is that this initiative will add to the options available and will reduce waiting time for everyone."

Dr Phillipe Boucquilon, from La Louviere hospital, said: "We are pleased to be involved in this international initiative which will help British patients get the treatment they need as swiftly as possible.

"There is no reason national boundaries should stand in the way of anyone getting top quality healthcare."

The 10 patients, who were drawn from east Kent, West Sussex, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, will be leaving for Lille on Friday 18 January.

Click here to go to Southampton

Click here to go to Kent
See also:

26 Aug 01 | Health
NHS patients to be sent abroad
16 Aug 01 | Health
How patient choice works abroad
31 Jul 00 | Health
GPs say NHS plan 'is wrong'
09 Apr 00 | Health
Third World plan to save NHS
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