Hope abroad for those seeking IVF and optical surgeries
A failing system
When did healthcare become a trip to the casino? A game of Roulette after a few watered down vodka drinks. Put all your money on red, cross your fingers and hope that the odds are in your favour. However, even the most experienced gambler knows, once the chips leave your hand, all bets are off, and the dealer is always counting his money. This analogy, although a stretch, is probably closer to the truth than we’re willing to admit. Currently the UK is providing free healthcare to nearly 64.6 million people; 54.3 million in England alone. As of 2016, this means nearly 1 million patients every 36 hours.
According to the King’s Fund review, the NHS is at its most critical crossroad in decades. Growing deficits, burnt-out underpaid staff, and ever-increasingly long wait times for A&E, cancer care and even routine operations have left the once globally renowned healthcare system in a crippling state. The popular think tank said drops in performance are at the lowest they have seen since the early 1990’s, and the UK’s gaping wound is only getting larger.“The next government will inherit a health service that has run out of money and is operating at the very edge of its limit,” commented public health policy expert, and professor, John Appleby. “There is now a real risk that patient care will deteriorate as service and financial pressures become overwhelming.”
Roll of the dice
Of all the challenges facing universal healthcare, the most troubling for citizens may be the constant gamble as to whether a treatment will be approved or not. While the NHS covers everything from routine screenings, to treatment for long-term conditions and end-of-life care, the stakes become increasingly high in regards to prescription costs, optical and dental services, and fertility treatments such as IVF.
To offer some relief, in 2011 the EU directive on cross-border healthcare was passed. The directive granted citizens fundamental right to purchase healthcare services across the European Economic Area (EEA) for all EEA citizens, and the right to apply for reimbursement from their home system. However, in the UK this still limits residents to treatment that is deemed medically necessary and would be made available under the NHS.
“It is great what the EU directive has done to erase borders and give EEA citizens more options, but it is not the end-all,” leading medical travel platform, Salutara, explained. “It still does not provide solutions for the millions of people who are seeking life changing treatments and procedures that are not covered by the home healthcare. And let’s face it; the average working person does not have several thousand pounds lying around to fund these treatments alone. The have families, and homes, and bills to pay.”
Which major treatments are not covered?
Nowadays, those with 20/20 vision have become the minority. This is true for the UK as well as most of the developed world. In Great Britain alone, over a third of the population between the ages 25-34 years old rely on some kind of corrective eyewear. The NHS only insures surgeries for eye conditions that, without treatment, can lead to loss of vision, including blindness. However, LASIK surgeries to correct conditions such as short-sightedness (myopia), long-sightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism are not. For patients who wish to permanently correct their vision and rid themselves from a lifetime of glasses and contact lenses, they must turn to private practices and their own pockets. On average, the cost of LASIK in the UK can range anywhere from £1,500-£2,200 per eye, depending on the strength of the prescription.
“I have been wearing prescription lenses and contacts since I was a young girl,” said 32-year-old London resident, and longtime astigmatism patient, Abigail Wilkinson. “I am a dancer by profession, and several years ago I sought out LASIK surgery to permanently correct my eyesight and was denied. According to their guidelines my condition was not severe enough and did not warrant treatment and I simply cannot afford this treatment out of pocket”. Wilkinson continued, “While I understand my condition is not life threatening, it impedes on my work and my everyday life. I dream of the morning I can wake up without reaching for my glasses.”
Similarly, the NHS exceedingly regulates fertility treatments, such as IVF. IVF, In Vitro Fertilization, is one of several techniques available to help people with their fertility problems and dream of having a baby. Currently the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has created a set of guidelines that makes suggestions about who should receive IVF treatment on NHS in England and Wales. The guidelines recommend that IVF should be offered to women under the age of 43 who have been trying to get pregnant for 2 years through regular unprotected sex or have undergone 12 cycles of artificial insemination. However, who is approved for NHS-funded IVF is in the hands of the dealer. In England, the final decision is made by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and their criteria is often stricter than that suggested by NICE. Like optical surgery, those who do not qualify for the NHS, must opt for a private clinic. Prices vary, but the average cost for one cycle of IVF in the UK is about £5,000.
“My wife and I had been trying to naturally conceive for nearly 3 years when we finally began seeking fertility treatment,” said Marcus Aiken, 34, of Scotland. “We have always shared a love for children and desperately want our own. It was heartbreaking for both of us when we were not approved by the NHS. We are not giving up, but some days it feels like our dream of a son or daughter has been robbed from us.”
What is the solution without going for broke?
“For citizens of the UK, the answers are simply not at home anymore. Healthcare systems, such as the NHS, have become a house of cards, and it is time the people take their health, and money, back into their own hands,” said Martin Cvetler, CEO of Salutara. “In 2015 alone, more than 6 million people traveled abroad for more affordable and timely medical treatments. Medical travel is providing answers to those who may have lost hope”.
For example in Prague, Europe’s Golden City and capital of the Czech Republic, the average cost is approximately £750 per eye. Due to the countries lower cost of living, surgeons are able to provide the same quality of services at significantly more affordable prices. For a native patient this may still be quite expensive, but for a patient traveling from the UK, the savings are drastic. An average flight from London to Prague costs between £37-£56 with a flight time of only two hours. The average cost for a hotel in Prague’s centre, £52- £82 per night. A 72-hour trip, airfare included, comes out to less than £200. Factor this in with the treatment cost and savings exceed nearly 50%. It is also common for many patients who undergo more minor treatments to extend their trip several days to take advantage of Prague’s rich history and excellent sightseeing.
“For citizens of the UK, the answers are simply not at home anymore. Healthcare systems, such as the NHS, have become a house of cards, and it is time the people take their health, and money, back into their own hands.”
Additionally, Prague IVF Clinics offer momentous savings for patients travelling from the UK and remarkably shorter wait times. For an IVF cycle package the average price is approximately £2,700. This also includes all medication, the initial consultation at the clinic (including ultrasound examination), examination of sexually transmittable diseases (STD), general anesthesia, ooctyes retrieval, fertilization of oocytes, and embryo cultivation up to 72 hours and transfer. Compared with the UK’s standard £5,000 per cycle, the savings alone convince even the most hesitant patients to consider travel abroad.
You’re not alone
“Clinics and physicians in Prague understand the desperation many foreigners feel under their current healthcare systems. They also understand the skepticism of traveling abroad for medical treatment,” Petr Vankat, co-founder of Salutara expressed. “Therefore, open communication between the patient and physician is critical. At Salutara, we connect prospective patients directly to the clinics and physicians so the professionals can address their questions and concerns. Through this platform the middleman is eliminated. Salutara also allows people to research, explore, and directly compare prices of their treatment options. This alleviates the months of search engine results and the headache of crunching numbers.”
“Clinics and Physicians in Prague also understand that medical travel is a growing industry and necessary for many who want to improve their lives,” Vankat added. “Therefore, millions are being invested in state-of-the-art facilities and the most cutting edge technology.
The future of healthcare
While the future remains uncertain for the NHS, it remains bright and optimistic for UK citizens. As more people become informed about medical travel, patients are able to take back control of their health. This year alone, more than 200,000 Brits are expected to cross borders to receive a medical treatment. Quality, affordable care no longer needs to be a serious of bad bets. Your health is not a gamble.