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Patients charge NHS for operations abroad

Over 600 people have claimed nearly £900,000 in medical costs under EU health directive

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Over 600 patients who have had surgery in other European countries have now successfully reclaimed their medical costs from the NHS under a new law introduced a year ago.

According to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions under a freedom of information request, 855 patients in England have submitted claims so far under the 2013 EU Directive on Cross Border Healthcare, which gives UK patients the right to receive treatment anywhere in Europe. Of these, 621 have been successful and between them they have reclaimed a total of £833,491 in total - an average of £1,342 per claim.

The directive means that patients waiting for treatment can choose to have an operation at a private hospital in Europe and reclaim the cost, provided the treatment is medically necessary and would cost no more than it would in an NHS hospital.

The DWP figures - revealed at the request of Operations Abroad Worldwide, a UK provider of treatment overseas - show that France, Germany and Poland were the most popular countries for operations. The lowest cost for a hip replacement was £4,153.35 which was carried out in the Czech Republic, and the lowest cost for a knee replacement was £2,756.16 which was in France.

However, the DWP warns that the costs may reflect the requirements of individual patients and therefore not necessarily a standard price.

Ruth Taylor of Operations Abroad Worldwide said the EU Directive gave patients greater choice and could also help the NHS achieve savings: “The EU Directive makes treatment in Europe a more attractive option,” she says. “For those who are on NHS waiting lists and considering private treatment, having their operation in Europe means they benefit from prompt treatment and will be able to claim back their medical costs, although they will have to cover their own travel expenses.

“While refunds are limited to the cost of an NHS operation, medical costs in Europe can be up to 80% lower, so it is possible for patients to receive treatment in a top-class private hospital for much less than it would cost the NHS. Therefore patients may also benefit from better quality care with more intensive rehabilitation and little or no risk of infection. Meanwhile the NHS benefits from cost savings and reduced waiting lists.”

To illustrate the difference in prices, a hip replacement which would cost the NHS £5,943 or £12,500 at a private hospital in the UK, would cost £3,970 at SurGal Clinic, one of the leading private hospitals in the Czech Republic.

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