Treatment abroad: Q&A

Some people choose to travel outside the UK for medical or dental treatment. Find out where they go and why.

There is very little information about how many people travel overseas for treatment and why. But two surveys, the International Passenger Survey (IPS) and a survey carried out by the consumer association Which? in December 2007, do provide some insights.

The surveys' findings suggest that most people who travel abroad for treatment do so for medical or dental procedures that wouldn’t be funded by the NHS. However, a small number of people travel abroad for planned treatment that is paid for by the NHS. Information on the entitlement to planned treatment abroad on the NHS is covered separately in our Healthcare abroad section.

How many people travel outside the UK for planned treatment?

In 2008, an estimated 52,500 UK residents travelled abroad for medical treatment, according to the IPS.

However, what isn't known is how survey respondents interpreted the term "medical treatment". The figures might include people recuperating from illness in addition to people travelling for medical procedures.

The IPS data also shows us the estimated number of people seeking treatment abroad has increased from 13,300 in 1999 to 52,500 in 2008 with a peak of 76,800 in 2006.

Why do people want to go abroad for treatment?

In the Which? survey, which polled 300 members of the British public who had had treatment overseas, cost was the number one reason people travelled abroad for treatment. 

Other reasons given by people in this survey included not wanting to wait for treatment on the NHS and wanting to combine treatment with a holiday.

What types of treatment do people travel for?

According to the Which? survey, the most popular types of treatment were dentistry (49% of respondents) and cosmetic surgery (28%). These were followed by a category called "other" (11%), orthopaedic surgery (8%) and fertility treatment (4%).

Where are people going?

During the five-year period from 2004 to 2008, the IPS data suggests that 78% of people who travelled for medical reasons went to European countries, and 22% travelled further afield.

Where can I find out about the risks of going abroad for cosmetic surgery, dentistry and other types of treatment?

There are several articles on NHS Choices that can help you make an informed decision about going abroad for treatment, such as the risks of going abroad for treatmentcosmetic surgery abroad, dental treatment abroad and planned treatment abroad.

Here are 10 things to know about stem cell treatments if you’re considering going abroad to be treated.

Page last reviewed: 02/12/2013

Next review due: 02/12/2015


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

amberhai said on 21 May 2014

Although the medical tourism is a recent phenomenon, this sector grows exponentially and emerges as a major force for the growth of services exports worldwide. India is one
of the major players in this industry. Soaring medical costs, high insurance premiums,increasing number of uninsured and under insured people in developed nations, long
waiting period in the home country, availability of high quality health care services at affordable rate, and internet/communication channels in developing countries, cheaper air fares, and tourism aspects are the driving forces of the outbound medical tourism. Currently India hosts about 1.27million medical tourists from industrialized countries like UK and USA and from its neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and
China. Its foreign exchange earning from medical tourism is around US $ 1.8 billion.

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Yorkie58 said on 13 February 2012

I read that persons have had to pay for a repeat treatment or prescription costs whilst abroad within a reciprocal NHS treatment country. The circumstances regardless of age could have been avoided by taking sufficient medication on the trip or holiday to cover that period or duration, whilst out of the UK.
This was not an unforeseen circumstance or medical emergency. Whilst it may have been an oversight not to have been with sufficient medication whilst abroad, the onus is upon the person or carer to make sure, that sufficient medication has been supplied by the GP and carried with them to their destination abroad. It is little surprise therefore that medical costs have been levied.

The moral of the story, is make sure you have enough medication with you whilst abroad and do not lose it.

Always make sure that your prescribed medication is kept in a secure place, such as a room or hotel safe.

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