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‘It’s not medical tourism, it’s desperation’: rising number of Britons resort to treatment abroad

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Cathy Rice had been in all-consuming pain for 18 months when she decided to fly to Lithuania. “I was going up the stairs on my hands and knees. I couldn’t get to the shop. I had no quality of life,” she says.

Rice, 68, who has four grandchildren, had been told she needed a knee replacement for an injury caused by osteoarthritis but – like millions of NHS patients – faced a gruelling wait.

At a clinic in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, the operation was arranged within weeks and cost €6,800 (£5,967) – around half the cost in the UK. The price included a pre-travel consultation, return flights, airport transfers, two nights in an en suite hospital room, pre-surgery check-ups and post operative physio.

“I thought, ‘Just look at your choices. You can stay here and be in this kind of pain for another couple of years or you can take a decision’,” Rice says.

The former health sector worker, from Glasgow, is one of a growing number of Britons going abroad for routine medical care. She had never gone private before and never had a desire to. But last week, a year after the first surgery, she returned to Lithuania to have the same procedure on her other knee. This time, she says the wait she faced on the NHS was three years.

She explains tearfully that to cover the costs of the surgeries in Lithuania, she sold her house. “People think that if you’re doing this you’ve got a wonderful pension or you’re very well off. But the driver here is that people are in pain,” she says. “This is not medical tourism; it’s medical desperation.”

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Source: The Guardian, 21 January 2023

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