Health Tourism: Medics' Concerns Mirror Dentists'

Few dentists have not had to ’pick up the pieces’ for patients who have presented with post operative issues following cosmetic dental treatment undertaken abroad. Patients enticed by ’packages’ offering ’eight veneers from £1600’ regularly surface on consumer affairs programmes. 

The sweet taste of a cheap price can soon be overtaken by the bitter taste of poor quality it seems.  Thankfully, media coverage usually affords a dentist the opportunity to flag up the dangers, not least the likely cost of remedial treatment if and when things go wrong.

Dentists have a duty of care to their patients, but they are not responsible for work undertaken abroad.  Charity Safe Smiles has received calls from patients facing bills of £10,000 to address dental treatment undertaken abroad whilst consumer group Which? found that more than a quarter of patients travelling abroad for medical treatment did not feel like they received the follow-up care they needed.  18% report complications.

NHS doctors however, are unable to charge and it’s the taxpayer - and other patients - who invariably foots the bill when weight loss surgery or hair-implant treatments go wrong after the patient has returned to the UK.

At the British Medical Association’s Annual Meeting in Belfast (24-25th June) delegates expressed concern about the ’boom’ in health tourism.  According to Foreign Office figures, six British nationals have died over the last year following medical procedures in Turkey.  

Popular for cosmetic dental treatments - and planting the phrase ’Turkey-Teeth’ into the English language - Turkey is also a ’go to’ destination for bariatric surgery. 

Consultant bariatric surgeon Ahmed Ahmed told Sky News earlier this year that around 3.6 million people in this country would meet the criteria for weight loss surgery but that the NHS can only perform 5,000 operations a year at most. This disparity, he said, was driving patients abroad.

With its well publicised access problems, NHS dentistry failings are in part a similar driver, fuelling some ’dental tourism’ as patients seek overseas treatments they can’t access - or can’t afford - at home.  

The number of emergencies being seen following treatments abroad is a cause of mounting concern to the NHS with hospital Drs having to cancel elective surgery because beds are being used to accommodate emergency patients recovering from complications arising from treatment received overseas.  

In comments that apply every bit as much to dental scenarios Dr Samuel Parker said there had been reports of  "shortcuts, inappropriate use of disposable instruments and patients suffering serious complications necessitating emergency NHS treatment.”

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