Medical tourism, also known as ‘healthcare tourism’ refers to when people go abroad, specifically for the provision of medical treatment. This traditionally has occurred when residents of countries with less developed healthcare systems choose to go abroad to access higher quality medical services on another country.
However, healthcare tourism can also be in reference to more economically developed countries, where people go abroad to access less expensive care, care restricted in their country of home residence or for care with shorter waiting lists.
Who Is Healthcare Tourism For?
Medical and healthcare tourism are usually found to be most popular in cases of patients requiring complex surgeries and cosmetic treatments, often offered at lower prices abroad for equivalent treatments and services.
Fertility treatment is often sought abroad, with some countries able to offer superior services in this area than others. Dental services, both cosmetic and not are also commonly the subject of healthcare and medical tourism. In the UK, inbound healthcare tourism has typically involved residents from European countries, the USA or Ireland coming to the UK to access the often-high standard of care found in the UK, both publicly and privately.
Which Treatments Do People Travel Abroad For?
In recent years, medical tourism has also involved UK residents going to Europe, mainly for cosmetic treatment, fertility treatment and various forms of dental treatment after failing to register with a UK NHS dentist or as a result of being on a long NHS waiting list for their required medical treatment.
Fertility tourism from the UK (people going to non-UK countries for these treatments) has also become increasingly popular in recent years due to the fertility treatment waiting list in the UK and the 'postcode lottery’ often referenced in relation to NHS fertility care.
NHS fertility services are regulated by NHS England and overseen by the NHS Care Quality Commission (CQC). Fertility service budgets in the UK are allocated based upon local clinical commissioning groups or CCGs. CCGs allocate fertility resources based upon budgetary limits, patient waiting lists and patient specific exclusion criteria which varies from one local authority to another.
The CCG budget allocation system may mean that some CCGs can offer two rounds of IVF treatment in the UK for example and some only one.
It may mean that age restraints (for example you must be under 40 for fertility treatment in some areas and 42 in others to be able to receive fertility treatment from the NHS), health restraints or child limitations (most NHS IVF is only for childless families, not for those wishing to grow their families) limit patient’s treatment options.
These CCG restraints may force individuals to look abroad to access life-giving care.
Why Do People Travel Abroad for Healthcare?
In recent years, Europe has been the primary choice of location for health services abroad from the UK, with many European countries having high-quality private healthcare provisions beyond what many in the UK can afford to access in the UK alone.
Spain for example, has been one of the most popular choices of location for those wanting dental services and France for fertility care.
It is uncertain how Brexit changes will affect this, but it is certain that with the NHS stretched more than ever after the Covid pandemic, health tourism will continue to grow.
Why Are Some People Hesitant to Travel Abroad for Healthcare?
What stops many people going abroad to receive medical treatments and healthcare are generally concerns around safety, perceived risks and regulations for overseas healthcare, which in some cases may not have the highly managed NHS quality care inspections and provisions.
However, more healthcare companies and insurance companies are partnering with healthcare providers abroad, to inspect and accredit facilities and ensure they provide patients with the highest-quality desired care to minimise this risk element.
Another limitation to overseas care has always been financial limitations. The question was always, why go abroad when you can get it at home for free?
With NHS dental services for example now increasingly hard to access due to long waiting lists and limited places on local practice registration books, travelling abroad for dental treatments and services has become often, the only option for those requiring critical treatment.
With some costs for NHS IVF and dental treatments now price matching those abroad, it now makes more financial sense for some to look outside the NHS.
The UK also has a developed private healthcare sector, which to date (and especially throughout Covid where worldwide travel was limited or prohibited) provided the access to care that the NHS could not provide patients.
At present, the UK private healthcare system continues to grow and to work in conjunction with NHS services and provide for all clinical needs required.
Do People from Abroad Travel to the UK for Healthcare?
The UK remains one the world top health providers. With most of the world’s top academic facilities, from Cambridge to Imperial to Oxford based in the UK, many of the brightest and most innovative health professionals can be found in many disciplines like cancer care in the UK.
The UK is still a popular destination for those seeking some specific medical treatments for conditions like cancer, where there is good medical provision in the UK private sector for those that can access it.
How Can GlobMed Help with Healthcare Tourism?
Many of our team and partners at GlobMed have worked with and within the NHS.
We know what the NHS can and cannot provide and we research what is available to ensure that we access the best care that you require. We look within UK private health sector as well as worldwide towards various other high-quality healthcare sectors in a variety of countries, to find you exactly what you are looking for and ensure that you get what care you require.
GlobMed is always in communication with the right professionals and we always ensure we partner only with accredited and safe medical facilities to minimise healthcare risks for our clients and patients, both in the UK and abroad within the GlobMed network.
We look at the whole package also to ensure there are no unexpected financial costs and work with insurance and finance companies to ensure everything stays within budgetary limits.
We appreciate the pain that infertility and dental issues for example can have and the frustrations at long waiting lists for care (and the elongation of suffering this can cause) and we work hard to ensure that our clients get quick access to the best care and get the smile, surgery or family that they deserve for their health.