According to the latest government figures, British nationals took more than 65 million overseas trips in 2015 - an increase of around 5 million on the year before. But alongside this increase in holidays also comes an increase in the number of injuries overseas, with a rise in hospitalisations abroad in 2015 of 2% on the previous year.
Medical standards vary greatly across the world and travellers should therefore be cautious when seeking any treatments for injuries that occur abroad. The UK has one of the best surgical training schemes in the world, overseen by organisations like the Royal College of Surgeons, who have been promoting the highest possible surgical standards for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, the same cannot necessarily be said of every other country in the world; and surgical standards can and do vary enormously, even within the EU.
With doctors regularly cited as some of the most trusted professionals, the public tend to have confidence in doctors and follow the advice they provide. But what many don't know is that the term 'Consultant' simply means that a junior doctor has finished their specialist training. Once a surgeon starts work as a Consultant, that's when they start working independently and operating without supervision, and that's then the start of a long steep learning curve before they reach a point of experience and genuine expertise. Also, just like all builders are not the same; likewise, all surgeons are not the same.
It is for these reasons that you need to take extra care if you've injured yourself abroad. If you've injured yourself really severely and if you've got something that's a genuine surgical emergency, then you might actually need urgent surgery abroad. However, this is actually a rarity, and the vast majority of people that I see in clinic who've had 'urgent' surgery abroad could very easily have just had a splint or brace put on their leg, with crutches and some painkillers, and they could have travelled home perfectly safely and got their knee looked at and sorted out locally without any harm whatsoever from the small additional wait that this would have caused. I've seen many cases of patients who've gone ahead with surgery abroad, only to come home and discover that they had other more favourable alternative options available to them.
To avoid this happening, there needs to be better engagement between insurance companies and UK surgeons. Patients who are facing the prospect of 'emergency' surgery abroad should be able to have a proper detailed remote assessment and a specialist second opinion before potentially being rushed unduly into committing to something without first being truly informed about their options.
If less UK patients had non-emergency 'emergency' surgery abroad, then perhaps UK surgeons wouldn't have to spend so much time picking up the pieces once these patients come home. This would in turn mean that the insurance companies would probably save themselves a lot of money, and hopefully fewer patients might end up suffering the consequences of poorly performed or even sometimes totally unnecessary surgery!
Health tourism is a bit naïve and potentially really quite dangerous. The same sensible cautious attitude should also prevail when it comes to the treatment of 'urgent' injuries sustained whilst on holiday abroad. Importantly, when holidaying this summer, take care and if you are unlucky enough to injure yourself abroad, ensure you are well-informed of your situation before rushing to any decisions.