Patients waiting for an operation on the NHS can go abroad for treatment, Tory MP Tom Tugendhat has suggested.
NHS waiting lists are at an all-time high, figures released earlier this month showed, with 4.41million people on waiting lists in England in August - up 250,000 from last year.
Tugendhat said the UK delays were “inevitable” and presented a “huge opportunity” for people to get treatment in “other ways”.
Highlighting health tourism as a cheaper alternative for the UK state, he raised the case of a couple who live overseas six months of the year.
They get NHS-funded care at a “significantly cheaper” rate when visiting hospital in Portgual, he said.
Speaking during the Queen’s Speech debate, he told shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth: “He’s right to identify delays that are inevitable in a massive state-led system. Would he therefore agree with me that there is a huge opportunity here for individuals to get treatment in other ways as well?
“I’m speaking particularly of a couple, who I have the privilege to represent in parliament, who have taken themselves to a hospital in Portugal where they spend six months, and they have got care there.
“Their care has been funded by the National Health Service, at a rate significantly cheaper than is available in the UK. Should we not welcome individuals who are able to do this? Of course it’s not for everybody, but could we not welcome it as a possibility?”
One opposition MP could be heard saying “own goal” while Ashworth replied: “I’m genuinely pleased for his constituents but there are 4.4 million on the waiting list – it used to be around 2 million – and every day there’s another 330 people waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment.”
Ashworth earlier criticised patient waiting times under Boris Johnson’s administration, telling MPs: “An ever-growing list of our constituents waiting longer for knee replacements, hip replacements, valve operations, cataract removals.
“We have Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) rationing more, we have trusts delaying surgery leaving patients in pain and distress.”
The shadow health secretary added: “Every day (Matt Hancock) is health secretary another 330 people wait beyond 18 weeks for treatment – people waiting longer for treatment under him, that’s his personal record.”