When you’re feeling a bit below par there’s nothing nicer than being tucked up at home, comfort foods and favourite telly close at hand, is there?
So perhaps it will come as a surprise to learn that more than 63,000 Britons choose to have medical treatment — including major procedures — abroad every year, according to a 2013 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study. In the report, published in PLOS (Public Library of Science), lead researcher Johanna Hanefeld revealed that this is a clear trend, with the numbers increasing sixfold since 2000. France is the favourite destination for British health tourists, with central and eastern Europe becoming more popular (especially Hungary), and India attracting a healthy share of interest too.
The two main purposes for combining anaesthetics and jetlag are expertise and cost. After all, if you’d catch a flight to eat at the best restaurant in the world, why wouldn’t you update your passport for the perfect arthroscopy? Especially if it was half the price of a UK one.
We all have our preferences and prejudices (informed or instinctive) when it comes to overseas operations, but here are some suggestions as to the hotter destinations for medical tourists this year.
Hair — UK
London is the capital of the hair transplant: travellers come for techniques such as Unshaven Follicular Unit Extraction (UFUE), an almost undetectable way of transplanting individual hairs back into the scalp. Dr Raghu Reddy, a hair transplant surgeon at The Private Clinic, believes there are many reasons for this, including the UK’s reputation for integrity and medical excellence, and a good buzz on online forums. UFUE costs about £4 a hair — with an average of 5,000 needed.
Cataracts — Turkey
If you fancy gazing across the Bosphorus with perfect vision, head to Istanbul for eye surgery. Not only does the Turkish government enforce strict quality standards, but also there are more hospitals accredited to the stringent US Joint Commission International (JCI) standards here than anywhere else outside north America. Dominating the field since 1996 is the Dünyagöz hospitals group (dunyagoz.com) which treats 3,000 foreign patients every month. Cataract surgery (with a monofocal lens) costs about £900 here, as opposed to £2,500 in the UK.
Teeth — Hungary
Hungarian dentistry is world famous. The country has more dentists per capita than anywhere else — in the tiny town of Mosonmagyaróvár, for example, around 150 are currently practising. It’s up to 70 per cent cheaper than in the UK. Dental tourism is driven largely by cost, but EU destinations triumph thanks to high standards set by the Association for Dental Education in Europe, which apply across the European Economic Association. Malta is also good for fast, affordable fillings.
Face — USA
Facelift prices are similar to the UK (about £7,500), but New York is where the brightest and best cosmetic surgeons hold court in Park Avenue clinics. Head here for experience, discretion and pioneering ways to look as if you haven’t had ‘work’ done.
Heart — India
For coronary care par excellence, it’s difficult to beat India — depth of experience is garnered thanks to the huge patient population, well-funded research leads to cutting-edge therapies, and costs are astonishingly low. The likes of cardiologist Devi Shetty, who trained at Guy’s Hospital in London before setting up a chain of 21 heart hospitals across India, have reduced dramatically the cost of operations such as artery-clearing coronary bypass surgery to around 95,000 rupees (£917). A procedure of this kind could easily cost nearer £20,000 in the UK.
Spine — South Korea
Go Gangnam style for pioneering spine and back therapies in Seoul (including at the Gangnam Severance hospital). Non-surgical treatments abound: the Jaseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine in Seoul treats myriad musculoskeletal conditions and diseases, including serious spinal disorders, without surgery — even when patients can no longer walk due to severe back pain. According to patientsbeyondborders.com, the hospital employs state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment in addition to traditional therapies.
Hips — France
The top country for healthcare, according to the WHO, and the one Britons choose most, France is an ideal place for orthopaedic work. A hip replacement with high quality joints and minimally invasive surgery costs around £6,000 in France, just over half the price of private care in the UK. According to operation-france.com, a specialist travel company, hip and knee replacements can take place within weeks of booking. French surgeons prefer minimally invasive methods, which require shorter recovery times than some UK counterparts.
Liposuction — Brazil
With more than 4,500 licensed cosmetic surgeons, the highest per capita number in the world, Brazil is your destination for a better body. This isn’t necessarily the cheapest option — and English is not widely spoken yet — but there are around 40 Joint Commission International-accredited hospitals throughout the country welcoming 50,000-plus medical travellers for full body lifts, liposuction and breast reconstructions. According to patientsbeyondborders.com you can expect to pay 30 per cent less.
Cancer — Israel
Highly respected for oncology research programmes, Israel’s medical centres are well funded and innovative. There are opportunities to join trials as well as to benefit from accrued expertise. Crucially, fees may be 50 per cent lower than in the UK or US.
And before you fly…
- Always check the qualifications and experience of your doctor/dentist/medical team — are they a member of a reputable national authority?
- Check how well English is spoken in the clinic, and whether it holds insurance which covers international clients (especially in case of the need for review or revision). Will you need check-ups and are they included in the price?
- Do ask for references and take them up.
- Ensure your own insurance is valid for medical tourism.