Sick Brits no longer willing to wait at home

Article date: 26 May 2005

Brits who travel abroad for medical treatmentare doing so because they are fed up with UK waiting lists, admitthree quarters (74%) of GPs in a new report out today.

GPs have confirmed there is a new trend of UKcitizens travelling abroad for treatment with one in five sayingthey have seen a notable increase in the number of their patientsdoing so.

The GP panel, interviewed as part of NorwichUnion Healthcare’s ‘Health of the Nation Index’,also reports that nearly half (45%) of their patients who travel toanother country for medical treatment, are doing so for majoroperations such as cardiac surgery and hip replacement. The mostpopular destinations include India, Costa Rica, South Africa,Germany, America and Thailand.*

And a further online poll conducted by theleading health insurer revealed that 83% would travel abroad for amajor operation if the waiting time was less than in the UK.

Dr Ann Robinson, one of the GPs who took part inthe Norwich Union Healthcare research, says: "I’m surprisedby these results. I didn’t realise that so many people areseeking diagnosis and treatment abroad. I might have expectedpeople to travel for fairly minor operations such as cosmeticsurgery or varicose vein procedures, but not for major surgery likeheart bypasses and hip replacement.

"If everything goes according to plan, having anoperation in another country may seem like a good solution howeverpatients must be fully aware that there are a number of risksassociated with having an operation abroad which may not occur tothem before they travel."

Having an operation is never risk-free but therecan be added dangers involved in travelling abroad for treatment.Norwich Union Healthcare has put together some importantconsiderations that patients should be aware of:

  • It can be difficult to obtain information about foreignhospitals and consultants
  • Travelling with an existing condition could increase the riskof developing further symptoms eg a thrombosis
  • Complications following an operation could leave patientsstranded for up to three months longer than they bargainedfor
  • Patients may have to cope abroad on their own without family& friends nearby for support - this could be a hidden cost ifa patient wants their family with them throughout theirtreatment
  • Language barriers could cause problems in communication– ie when discussing complicated medical procedures
  • A patient’s GP may not be aware of the treatment theyhave had. Even if relevant documentation is brought back, theformat may be different and difficult to understand
  • There is no easy stream of communication with a foreignhospital. If complications develop later on, GPs will have limitedaccess to x-rays, blood test results etc.

Dr Ann Robinson adds: "Although some Governmentinitiatives have been put in place to begin reducing hospitalwaiting times, it is estimated that around 50,000 people areleaving the UK for treatment every year.** It's clear thereforethat a lot more still needs to be done to address this issue andensure UK citizens receive the medical attention they need quicklyon the NHS."

As well as shorter waiting lists, doctors alsobelieve that faster and more reliable diagnostic services wouldalso help to reduce the wait for medical treatment in the UK.

The findings are part of Norwich UnionHealthcare’s fifth ‘Health of the Nation Index’,now entering its third year, which looks at GPs’ currentviews of the health service.

The Index also shows that GPs believe theirlocal NHS services remain poor and are unable to cope with some ofthe increasingly prevalent conditions they see in theirsurgeries.

The percentage of GPs who believe that local NHS Trust offerspoor service:

Eating disorder


Alcohol & Drug addiction




Children with learning difficulties


Hip/knee replacement


Dr Doug Wright at Norwich Union Healthcare adds:"One of the main themes that has been highlighted by the fifth‘Health of the Nation Index’ is the growing concern GPshave about their patients’ medical experiences and thequality of care available within the NHS. Believing that theirlocal NHS Trusts aren’t able to cope with some of the corehealth challenges of today is one of the strongest indicators ofthis.

"Norwich Union Healthcare is committed tocontinue monitoring the thoughts and concerns of GPs tracking whatthey see are the major issues and potential solutions when it comesto the nation’s health and wellbeing."

Roger Taylor, research director at Dr Foster, the independenthealthcare research organisation who carried out the research said:"We hope that giving patients choice about where they are treatedin England and the provision of more capacity through privatehospitals and treatment centres will mean that patients do not feelit necessary to travel abroad for treatment as this is not theideal solution for patients."


Full details of the ‘Health of the Nation Index’report can be accessed at

Media contacts:
Charlotte Ruddlesdin orJo Misson, QBO Bell Pottinger on 020 7861 2424

Norwich Union Press Office contacts:
LornaWiltshire: 07800 695 150
James Evans: 01904 452 791 or 07800 699 525Notes toeditors:

Norwich Union Healthcare commissioned Dr Fosterto conduct research amongst 250 practicing General Practitionersfrom across the UK during January and February 2005.

1596 were polled by Norwich Union Healthcare’s between February and May 2005.* Guardian, G2section May 2004

** Guardian G2 section May 2004

About Norwich Union Healthcare

  • Norwich Union Healthcare was founded in 1990 as the healthcarearm of Norwich Union and now provides a range of incomeprotection and private medical insurance products that coverover 750,000 lives. It is one of the largest providers of incomeprotection and private medical insurance in the UK.
  • Norwich Union Healthcare is authorised and regulated by theFinancial Service Authority and is a member of the Associationof British Insurers and the Financial Ombudsman Service.
  • Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of imagesare available from Aviva’s internet press centre
  • An ISDN facility is available for studio quality broadcast.Call QBO Bell Pottinger on 020 7861 2424.

About Dr Foster

  • Dr Foster is the leading independent authority on healthcarequality in the UK. It publishes information which is accessibleto the general public and provides information analysis to theprofessional healthcare community.

An independent Ethics Committee with substantialpowers to enforce editorial and research integrity oversees theorganization.

Further information is available at

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