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Infections in UK hospitals drive patients to India

Medical tourism has increased by 25 per cent with British patients flocking abroad to avoid contracting hospital infections in UK.

business Updated: Apr 16, 2007 12:06 IST

British patients are travelling to India not only to avail of the low cost and high quality treatment but also to escape contracting lethal hospital infections in Britain, according to patients and medical experts.

In 2006, more than 50,000 British patients flew abroad for treatment, reflecting a 25 per cent rise over the previous year. The most popular destinations were India, Hungary and Turkey. Patients fear contracting infections in British hospitals such as MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and Clostridium difficile. Also among the favourite destinations are Holland, Sweden and Norway which do not have an MRSA problem.

Other reasons prompting the migration abroad is long waiting lists and cutbacks in services offered by the National Health Service (NHS) due to budgetary constraints.

Keith Pollard, a director of Treatment Abroad, a website on medical tourism, told the media: "We are getting reports that worries about hospital infections such as MRSA are driving people abroad."

Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said: "Hospital infections is the number one concern from callers to our helpline. It comes as no surprise that some people are going abroad because they're frightened of NHS infection rates in this country.

"The government is not doing anything to reassure the public, particularly when we know key people are being lost from hospital infection posts and cleaning budgets are being cut".

According to a survey by the website Treatment Abroad, dentistry is the most popular service with treatments such as crowns, dental implants, bridges and veneers leading the way.

More than 20,000 Britons travel abroad for treatment to their teeth, spending approximately pounds 2,500 each, with an estimated market value of over pounds 50 million a year.

Cosmetic surgery is a close second with around 14,500 patients travelling outside the UK. Breast implants, tummy tucks, liposuction and face-lifts are among the most popular choices with patients spending around pounds 3,500 each, creating an estimated market worth pounds 50 million.

The most common types of elective surgery for patients travelling abroad are hip or knee replacements, laser eye surgery and cataract removal, with some 10,000 patients spending pounds 37 million in 2007.

According to Treatment Abroad, which received replies from 132 out of 500 companies involved in UK medical tourism, the market rose by 25 per cent over the last year and is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent in the next 12 months.

It is now worth about pounds 163 million annually, including travel and accommodation, of which pounds 136 million is the cost of treatment. Of the providers who responded, 23 per cent send patients to India, 12 per cent to Hungary and 10 per cent to Turkey.