Thursday, August 30, 2007

Desperate Brits going to Malta

Medical tourism is a new and rapidly growing development where prospective patients from rich Western countries go overseas to combine treatment and recovery in a holiday setting. This can also be done at a fraction of the cost they would incur for treatment at home.

A number of health service agencies have realised the market potential and more and more countries are jumping on the bandwagon to offer people competitively-priced elective surgery, cosmetic surgery and dentistry abroad. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Malta Tourism Authority is eager to tap this new market. It seems to be employing the expertise of an Indian-based company, Sahara Medical Tourism, that facilitates overseas surgery for patients from the UK, Europe and the USA and is now promoting Malta as a destination for medical tourism.

Due to lengthy NHS waits and concerns about the high risk of MRSA infections in NHS hospitals, a growing number of Britons are taking advantage of affordable, high-quality private healthcare abroad, combining it with a relaxing holiday. They save thousands of pounds compared with having the treatment done privately in the UK. Already, many British patients travel to Belgium, Hungary and Poland and even further afield to countries such as India and Brazil.

Malta offers obvious advantages. It is a close, traditional tourist destination, boasts a high standard of medical and dental care and has well-run private hospitals. With the prospective commissioning of Mater Dei Hospital, the government will have an impressive array of services on offer in a first-class environment. Added to that, Maltese medical professionals have a well-deserved high reputation and very often have post-graduate qualifications from the UK. The fact that English is easily spoken is another advantage.

To cope with their intractable waiting lists, the NHS of the UK is also seriously considering Malta as a location for its patients to travel for surgery. It seems a winning formula for all concerned. Not least, it will provide an incentive for Malta's medical, dental and paramedical professionals to remain in their own country.

It is of paramount importance that the MTA does its homework properly and gets things right from the outset. No amount of marketing will compensate for a botched or inadequate scheme. Lost reputations are not easily regained. The government has to make sure standards are rigorously upheld and only allow hospitals, clinics and operators that fulfill stringent requirements to participate. Meanwhile, it still has to be seen what impact such schemes will have on the services offered to the local population. This applies particularly if the government is an active participant in health tourism.

It is imperative that the Maltese people will not become second-class patients in their own country as paying cases from overseas are given priority. There is nothing to suggest this will happen, but as St Luke's Hospital waiting lists amply illustrate, the government-run medical service is already finding difficulty meeting the needs of its own, especially where elective surgery is involved. Will the adequate funding of the new hospital service depend to a critical extent on health tourism? As has been repeated so often, there is more to a medical service than a state-of-the-art building and equipment. Health tourism can be a godsend but mismanaging it will lead to a dual and unequal service that will prove socially and politically unacceptable.


Australia: Bureaucrats want to curtail cardiac surgery in private hospitals

Even though there are no nearby government hospitals to do it! They hate private hospitals because the private hospitals show them up

The Gold Coast's 600,000 residents could be stripped of any cardiac surgery services, forcing locals with heart conditions to travel to Brisbane for treatment.

Queensland Health has advised the Coast's two private hospitals it could withdraw their approval to offer cardiac services. Queensland's chief health officer Jeannette Young is considering withdrawing approval because neither hospital performs the amount of work required under official guidelines to maintain staff competency and patient safety. Residents will not be able to turn to the public system because the local hospital has not been funded for cardiac surgery.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said while no decision had been made, the review was about ensuring cardiac services were safe and sustainable.


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