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23 September 2014

M For Malta and medical tourism

 - Sunday, 25 November 2007, 00:00

by CARLA GATT

Medical tourism is a term used to describe the rapidly growing practice of travelling to another country to obtain health care. Countries such as England and America have a long waiting list of patients needing surgery and other medical care, so patients are looking for alternative places where to have their surgery.

“Malta has one of the best medical services in the world and, in terms of medical tourism, it should receive a high number of foreign patients,” Sahara Medical-Surgery Worldwide UK representative Gary Miller told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Mr Miller’s first visited Malta 10 months ago and, together with Fortina Spa, St James Hospital and the Malta Tourism Authority launched a campaign to promote health tourism in Malta with a 30-second commercial promoting cosmetic surgery services in Malta.

He returned to the island recently to shoot a feature film with a Maltese crew. The film, which he took back with him, promotes Malta as a medical tourism destination.

“We would like to discuss the possibilities with British Health Minister Dawn Primarolo of expanding the National Health Service to Malta as it is more viable,” he said.

If Health Tourism television proves successful with the people and the health authorities, meetings could be arranged for one or two British delegates to come to Malta and discuss matters with the Maltese health minister, he said.

Malta can help change how patients look at tourism and the country itself. Surgery World Wide Ltd and Sahara Med are trying to do this through the medium of television. Ninety-nine per cent of the population in England has television, so shooting films and commercials for TV to promote countries like Malta, the Philippines, Thailand and India could boost these countries’ economy and tourism.

“I believe that Malta has all the possible criteria to make this feasible, as it has amazing sights and the best available health services, as well as being only a two-hour 50-minute flight away from Britain.”

The Malta Independent on Sunday asked Mr Miller to explain how the system works. In the case of Britain, the client has a pre-operative consultation with one of the surgeons there. Following the consultation, the affiliated company sends the medical history to the country of the patient’s choice.

Once the patient arrives in the country, s/he will have a personal care manager who will look after him/her on a daily basis. The personal care manager will accompany the patient to the hospital for pre-ops and perhaps even organise excursions around Malta, preferably before surgery rather than after.

Patients who have orthopaedic and cardiac surgeries would be unable to travel after surgery and spend their recovery time in the comfort of their hotel room.

Once the patient returns home, the national nursing agency will ensure that s/he will be visited on a regular basis. Once Care Plan decides that the patient has fully recovered, a medical report is sent to the hospital.

Mr Miller says that affiliated companies Sahara Medical and Surgery Worldwide are ensuring that the process is made safer by bringing Maltese and British health groups together.

However, not all patients are able to travel abroad, especially if there is a high-risk factor. There are patients who have serious cardiac problems and an air flight could prove too perilous for them. The patient’s insurance and finances also have to be checked.

Britain is currently facing severe problems in hospitals and clinics due to escalating costs, long waiting lists, and a recurrent serious problem that has haunted British hospitals – MRSA infections, which are hospital-acquired infections.

Mr Miller also explained that although it is a business company, the medical aspect is crucial and there is a code of ethics they have to follow.

All of these issues are pushing British people to ask for destinations where they could have cheaper surgeries yet of a very high standard.

Mr Miller told The Malta Independent on Sunday that 10 per cent of people worldwide actually opt for medical tourism although the number of people who inquire about it is much higher. It is the fear factor that, as an affiliated company, they try to take care of and resolve, he continued.

Asked about the future plans for Sahara Medical and Surgery Worldwide Ltd, Mr Miller said they would also like to expand the market to America as the cost of surgery there is “literally extortionate”. The main problem with America is that a majority of the population there does not have health insurance.

The Malta Independent on Sunday also spoke with St James Hospital Group director Jean Claude Muscat, who said that Malta rates somewhere in the middle in this sector. Germany and Switzerland are too expensive while India and Cyprus are cheaper. However, that does not mean that these countries have good health standards comparable to Malta’s.

St James Hospital had first identified this market 18 months ago. They carried out research in a few countries to learn about the best services to offer and how to increase the competition in the sector.

“We can only do this if we know what Malta’s strong points in terms of tourism are and our strong points as a hospital group,” Mr Muscat said.

“We are mostly competitive in orthopaedics and plastics,” he said. “Those are our strong points as a medical institution.”

Malta has a good climate and, being a small country it offers patients that homely feeling, as well as qualified doctors and staff who speak English fluently, and a cost factor, which competes well with other countries. Apart from that, I must say that our MRSA screening programme is quite tight and rigorous,” he continued.

“We already have a good number of foreign patients coming to St James for treatment. We want to double this number by next year,” he said.

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