As pressure continues to build on NHS services, it has been announced that it will be possible for patients to travel to France as part of their routine treatment in the future.
This initiative has been put into practice with the aim of reducing hospital waiting times.
As NHS managers attempt to improve the way that the health service operates, contracts have been signed for patients in parts of Kent to be treated at two French hospitals.
Both Calais and Le Touquet will begin treating NHS patients by the end of April next year.
It has already been arranged for the National Health Service to foot the bill for any treatment carried out at these French locations.
Among the procedures that will be conducted at Calais and Le Touquet are orthopaedics, gynaecology, ear nose and throat and cataract surgery.
But it should be emphasised that this will be entirely optional.
Patients will ultimately be required to meet their own travelling costs should they decide to take this option, so it is very much an idea that is offered to patients, rather than one that they are obliged to accept.
However, for many travelling to France would be quicker than travelling to London – and patients could be treated sooner.
Naturally, this new initiative has generated headlines, and critics of the scheme have already described it as gimmicky.
In particular, union leaders have denounced the scheme as failing to address the real problems that the NHS is facing.
Commenting on the issue, Hazel Carpenter, of the NHS South Kent Coast CCG, warmly welcomed the idea, and suggested that the new initiative could be an excellent option for some patients.
“Our patient representatives have been to France, as well as CCG GP representatives and tested the practicalities, ensuring that the scheme is viable. Feedback has been very positive, and the French providers have listened, improving signage, for example. And the hospitals have already ensured that staff have excellent English language skills.”
However, Simon Bolton, of Unison, was considerably less positive about the proposals, suggesting that they were fundamentally flawed, both in terms of logistics and in addressing broader issues.
“It’s an admission of failure and instead of trying to own up and deal with it, they’ve come up with this. I dare say if you go to France you will get decent treatment but if you need a hip operation, for example, how are you going to travel 22 miles? Who’s going to visit you? Having failed to commission and plan care in Kent properly, they are now saying, “Well you can go to France”. It’s a gimmick and it’s to cover their own backs.”
It has been widely reported that the NHS is facing a deficit of £30 billion by the end of the decade.
And with the government seeking £22 billion of efficiency savings, it is clear that the health service faces many logistical and financial challenges in the coming years.