DESPITE living in agony for months, Glenn Horan could not even get on a NHS waiting list for a hip replacement op.
But this week he was recovering at a private clinic in Lithuania, having arranged the surgery in just weeks.
Glenn Horan could not get on an NHS waiting list for a hip replacement op but arranged a surgery in Lithuania in just weeks[/caption]
Father-of-two Glenn, 51, from Ampthill, Beds, said: ‘The first time I really needed the NHS, it wasn’t there for me’[/caption]
Father-of-two Glenn, 51, from Ampthill, Beds, said: “I have not been sleeping much for the past two months as it’s like someone sticking a knife in me.
“I met a specialist in February but they said they needed to apply for funding before I could even get on the waiting list.
“I started working when I was 16, I have been paying taxes all my life and never had to use the NHS. The first time I really needed it, it wasn’t there for me.”
Glenn, a Taekwondo instructor, is one of a growing number of Brits driven to risk treatment abroad after being told they face years languishing on waiting lists back home.
And the phenomenon is only expected to get worse.
Experts fear 250,000 NHS appointments and procedures will be cancelled when 47,600 medics go on strike for four days from Tuesday.
The walkout, over a 35 per cent pay rise demand, will be the biggest in the history of the NHS.
Patients have been attracted to Lithuania after the word was spread on Facebook of shorter waiting lists and cheaper prices than going private in the UK.
Yet there is concern about the risks of treatment abroad, particularly of blood clots from flying home too soon after surgery. And if anything should go wrong during a procedure, who is liable for the bill?
Disappointed in NHS
The Office for National Statistics has estimated that about 248,000 UK residents went abroad for medical treatment in 2019, compared with 120,000 in 2015.
At the Nord Orthopaedics Clinic in the medieval city of Kaunas, 80 per cent of its patients are now from the UK.
Glenn’s package cost £6,200 including the flight and transfer from the airport. It would have set him back around £14,000 at a private hospital in England.
Also at the clinic was mechanic Dawn Kennedy, who faced an 18-month wait for a hip replacement on the NHS.
When The Sun on Sunday visited the Nord Clinic on Thursday, she was recovering having arranged an appointment in weeks.
The 49-year-old, from Telford, Shrops, told us: “I’m one of the lucky ones, as business is going well so I could afford to pay for a hip operation in Lithuania. I feel absolutely terrible for those people left in limbo by our health system.
Mechanic Dawn Kennedy, 49, faced an 18-month wait for a hip replacement on the NHS and said: ‘The system is an absolute farce’[/caption]
As 47,600 medics go to strike for four days from Tuesday, 250,000 NHS appointments and procedures are set to be cancelled[/caption]
“You can’t even get an appointment with a GP any more. You have to get past the receptionist and they are like Rottweilers.
“I know there is a backlog caused by Covid but things should be getting back to normal. Instead they seem to be getting worse. The system is an absolute farce.”
When Dawn saw a specialist about her hip in February, she was told it would be “at least” 75 weeks before she could have an operation.
She said: “I didn’t want to be in pain, I wanted my life back.”
Dawn felt she had no option but to pay £7,900 to have the operation in Lithuania as waiting any longer would have left her unable to leave the house.
Dawn took a £200 Wizz Air flight from Luton Airport with her husband Ian, 57, last Sunday and checked into a four-star hotel in Kaunas, the Baltic country’s second- largest city, where rooms were just over £60 a night.
Most of the cost of her flight — but not her hotel stay — was included in her package and the clinic also arranged airport transfers. She had her operation on Tuesday morning, followed by four days of intensive physiotherapy.
The Nord Clinic’s six surgeons last year treated 550 Brits needing hip and knee operations, while ten years ago they saw just a handful.
Now around 20 UK patients arrive for surgery every week.
The number of patients paying for private treatment here has risen by 39 per cent in the past two years after the pandemic caused a huge backlog of cases.
And the number looks set to rise after the latest doctors’ strike, which follows industrial action in December that saw 300,000 NHS operations cancelled.
The latest figures show that 7.19million people were waiting for treatment in England in November, with 406,575 waiting more than a year.
Orthopaedic procedures are top of the lists, with NHS data showing more than 700,000 patients on hold for knee, hip and other procedures.
Other popular destinations for medical tourists include Hungary, Poland, Spain and Turkey. But there have been concerns about the quality of care received abroad.
Last month the Foreign Office issued a warning after 22 Brits died in Turkey following surgery.
And while healthcare standards in Lithuania are comparable to those in Britain, flying abroad for any surgery carries risk.
Pathologist Dr Marios Anastasiadis said: “It is vital they fully recover before boarding a plane. A hip or knee replacement is a significant procedure, albeit a common one, and the risk of clots can increase with flying as during a flight you are immobilised.
“If people fly too early the risks increase significantly. Wherever you go in Europe the most modern hip replacements and implants are in use, just like in the NHS.
“However, in the rare instances of where things do go wrong there is a question mark over who picks up the bill.”
Many are facing debt to fund their travels. NHS nurse Candy Duncan had to borrow thousands from her three siblings to pay for her almost £8,000 Wellness Travels hip operation in February at Gijos Clinic, Kaunas. Candy, 68, said: “My hip was gone. It had been three years since the problem was first identified.
“Then I was told it was another two-and-a-half-year wait for a hip operation. I hit rock bottom in January. I couldn’t leave the house the pain was so bad.
“I was petrified going abroad for surgery but I just couldn’t afford the cost in England. I did nine days of rehabilitation in Lithuania and I feel like a new person now.
“If I had the operation at an NHS hospital I would have been sent home on the fourth day with some leaflets and exercises to do.
“I wouldn’t say I’m angry but I’m disappointed that the system I work for is not able to provide care.”
At the Nord Orthopaedics Clinic in Kaunas, 80 per cent of its patients are now from the UK[/caption]
NHS nurse Candy Duncan had to borrow thousands to pay for her almost £8,000 Wellness Travels hip operation in February at Gijos Clinic, Kaunas[/caption]
THE President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England has warned that patients flying abroad for surgery could face “complications”.
Professor Neil Mortensen said: “Some countries are now positioning themselves as destinations for healthcare.
“They offer competitive prices and attractive packages to encourage this type of tourism.
“Due to the ongoing pressure in the NHS, a growing number of patients are choosing to go abroad to avoid long waiting lists.
“We strongly urge patients thinking about having surgery outside of the UK to thoroughly research the surgeon and hospital they are planning to use before committing to the procedure.
“Having treatment in other countries means that if there are complications following surgery, you will not have access to the same healthcare professionals, so there will be no continuity of care once you fly back home.
“Such complications from surgery can also be difficult to resolve due to differences in equipment and techniques.”