The British National Health Service has launched an entire new industry: surgical tourism. The Daily Mail reports that the numbers of Britons seeking an escape from the universal health-care system will exceed 70,000 this year and 200,000 by 2010, flying to all parts of the world to get medical attention, and better surgical conditions:
Record numbers of Britons are travelling abroad for medical treatment to escape the NHS – with 70,000 patients expected to fly out this year.
And by the end of the decade 200,000 “health tourists” will fly as far as Malaysa and South Africa for major surgery to avoid long waiting lists and the rising threat of superbugs, according to a new report.
The first survey of Britons opting for treatment overseas shows that fears of hospital infections and frustration of often waiting months for operations are fuelling the increasing trend. …
India is the most popular destination for surgery, followed by Hungary, Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, Poland and Spain. But dozens more countries are attracting health tourists.
The European destinations seem understandable, given their proximity and easy access. The longer trips to India and Malaysia indicate a measure of desperation. The expense involved has a great deal of money flowing out of the country, and it shows that a free people find market-based solutions when possible.
India’s popularity comes in part from their efforts to fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, something that the NHS has yet to do systematically. In fact, the DM says that surgical complications from Clostridium difficile have risen past the 55,000 cases known from the previous year, continuing a decade-long trend that has seen a 500% increase in such infections. Hungary’s attraction comes from its access to dentists, while the NHS has seen most of its dentists flee the system.
And of course, what this shows is that those who have the money will have the resources to get medical care — and they know better than to use the NHS. People who can afford the double hit of their taxes (which fund NHS) and private medical care manage to do so, and they don’t stop at British private medical resources to get it. They have “globalized” medical care by shopping for services, using competition to drive down cost and improve delivery of services.
If Britain would allow those kinds of market forces to work in its health industry rather than impose the kind of top-down government management that NHS represents, they might keep that money in Britain. If the US wants to keep from creating its own surgical tourism industry as an export, we should learn this lesson, and quickly. (via Memeorandum)