The tragic death of Morgan Ribeiro, 20, who died after travelling to Türkiye (formerly known as Turkey) for a gastric sleeve operation, is a reminder to everyone considering a cosmetic or medical procedure, or dental care that there are risks involved whether abroad or in the United Kingdom.
Ian Gargan, Chief Executive, Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), said:
“Our thoughts go out to Morgan’s family and anyone else affected by similar circumstances when medical tourism has gone wrong.”
“Although we do not collect data from outside the UK, sources tell us that numbers of people reported as travelling abroad for elective medical and cosmetic surgery are often exaggerated in the media. Therefore, people shouldn’t assume that lots of other people are doing it, and that means everything is safe.
“We know that with NHS waiting lists at high levels, people are looking for alternatives – our data shows record numbers are turning to the UK private sector. Therefore, it’s understandable that the lure of a cheaper option abroad can be very attractive, especially if it’s combined with a bit of warmer weather.
“However, people should be aware that there are a variety of standards and regulations in different countries and that these may impact the treatment they receive. This includes complaints procedures should something go wrong. There have also been issues with misleading advertising (including https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/pasifik-health-services-inc-a23-1211995-pasifik-health-services-inc.html), so people should be careful about trusting adverts or there could be a high cost. As is so often the case, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
“There is nothing necessarily wrong with travelling outside the UK for cosmetic or medical treatment, and many countries in Europe and beyond have excellent healthcare systems, but as with any cosmetic or medical treatment it is important to do your research first. It is also worth considering the fact that return appointments may be necessary – even if everything went perfectly to plan – and this could involve extra flight and hotel costs.”
What should I do if I'm considering health tourism?
Before joining the ranks of medical tourists, you should find trusted sources that can tell you what your experience will really be like. Find out about the qualifications and accreditations of the healthcare providers and facilities in your chosen country. Check if the medical care professionals are certified and if the hospital or clinic adhere to international standards.
The initial consultation is an important part of the process in the UK. It helps you to assess the healthcare facilities and understand the:
- proposed treatment plan
- quality of care available
- potential risks
- expected outcomes
and to ensure you feel comfortable with the consultant who will be conducting your procedure. If you are planning to medical travel abroad you should make sure you have such a consultation and also check that language barriers won't impede communication.
It is important to also consider the overall safety of medical tourism destinations. You should assess the prevalence of infectious diseases, the quality of healthcare infrastructure, and the accessibility of emergency services. The Government offers travel advice on gov.uk.
Follow-up care is also very important, even if everything about your procedure is done to the highest standards what happens afterwards, including how soon you travel home can impact your health. For instance you can be more at risk of deep vein thrombosis after a medical procedure if air travel is involved. You also need to ensure you’ll have access to any medical services and medicines you require when you get back as they won’t always be available in the UK.
Additional costs of medical tourism trips
Patients returning to their home country and needing further treatment when something has gone wrong is believed to be costing the NHS £50m a year. It’s worth noting that NHS Scotland says it will always provide emergency care where needed, but that it is under no obligation to provide further routine treatment.
Find out more
Not every country has an organisation like PHIN which collects private healthcare data and shares it with the public. People considering private treatment can use the resources on our website to find out more about their options. We don’t have information on hospitals and doctors outside the UK, but can still help people to know what questions they should be asking and what they need to consider, and also to compare that to the healthcare they could receive without leaving the country.