NHS begins French outsourcing

In October 2015 the South Kent Care Commission Group announced plans to outsource NHS operations to the Centre Hospitalier de Calais (“Centre Hospitalier”) in a bid to cut patient waiting times.

Timothy Brierley is about to become the first patient to take up the initiative, travelling to Centre Hospitalier for gall bladder surgery after realising that surgery would only be available 9 months after the need for surgery was identified. Staff at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford did not offer Mr Brierley the option to travel to France; he took it upon himself to get the referral from his GP after reading about the initiative online. He said

the wait, absolutely, was the main reason … I was very disappointed by it. It really was so frustrating. I’ve worked for 30 years, paying into the NHS, never had to use it before now. After I was told there was nothing before July, I decided I had to explore another avenue”.

Mr Brierley has waited only 6 weeks from referral to see his doctor in France, which the French doctors have apologised for, citing that patients should be able to expect an even faster turnaround time. This, cited with the fact that hospital signage, forms and questionnaire have all been translated into English for NHS patients, and staff have undergone training in English to ensure all consultations are conducted in a patient’s mother tongue, have all made the experience that much easier for Mr Brierley.

A spokesperson for South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group has said that it is not compulsory for patients to go to France. She said

“it is purely a matter of choice and we will be very interested to see how many people take it up and what feedback they give us”.

Of course, the chance of patients taking up the service will increase if patients are actually signposted to the service, which doesn’t appear to be happening. Centre Hospitalier can offer NHS patients cataract surgery, orthopaedics and ear nose and throat procedures, along with gall bladder procedures and such patients concerned about waiting times for these procedures could be eligible.

But Unison’s Head of Health, Christina McAnea, sees the initiative more as evidence of failure as opposed to something that should be praised. She said

[its] a sorry state of affairs when we have to send patients to France for operations … despite the Prime Minister promising to maintain health services, this shows that the NHS does not have enough money or capacity to provide a full range of treatment to the people of Kent”.

Patients, who can come from all areas of the country, would be responsible for their own travel costs and are expected to return to France for their follow up appointments, which may put some off. Travelling abroad for treatment is not without its perils and patients should consider the issues raised in our blog before embarking on treatment abroad.