More than 60 English patients have had operations such as hip and knee replacements carried out in a French hospital after spending too long on NHS waiting lists.
Calais CHU hospital has a contract with the NHS to offer non-urgent work with operations in a few days rather than many months, single-bed rooms and state-of-the-art resources in a modern hospital with English-speaking staff.
Sitting just minutes from the Eurotunnel terminal, it is less than an hour from Dover and general affairs manager Pauline Richoux said they were keen to help more patients to fill beds which are under-utilised.
“The hospital was built in 2012 and aimed to last for 30-40 years so it has extra capacity and when Kent NHS advertised for hospitals to offer their services we did so and won a contract in 2016, along with the hospital at Berck-sur-Mer.
“To start with, little happened then this winter it snowballed and we had one or two patients in every day for consultations or operations as word spread.”
With up to 55,000 non urgent but much-needed operations being cancelled by the NHS, the hospital had 140 requests for treatment in one fortnight alone at the end of January.
Calais CHU can provide elective care for specialities such as general surgery, orthopaedics, gynaecology, ENT, urology and pain management.
Initial diagnosis is done by UK doctors and patients who know of the Calais link are sent to France for an initial consultation plus meeting the anaesthetist before returning for the operation. Patients pay their own transport costs.
From start to finish it can be completed in a week but is most often done in a few weeks.
Ms Richoux said: “Most of the operations we carry out are hip and knee replacements, bladder operations and stomach reduction. However, we do not offer open-heart surgery, neurosurgery, cataract repair or any work with children. We also do not offer plastic surgery as this is not covered by the NHS.
“Our costs are met directly by the NHS with patients paying only a small extra for any special services such as internet.”
Waiting times for hip replacements at William Harvey and Medway Maritime hospitals in Kent are more than 30 weeks but Ms Richoux said they could offer the operation in about four weeks from patients first speaking to their UK doctor.
While private hip replacements in the UK can cost up to £17,000 if the patient is desperate, the Calais hospital works for a set NHS fee of £9,251.
Ms Richoux – who used the English word ‘bladder’ when she forgot the French word – said the hospital had dozens of staff at all levels who spoke and were trained in English.
The service is seen as helping the hospital balance its books and Ms Richoux said there was no impact in French patients’ needs as “English patients get no priority whatsoever and we have spare capacity”.
The first patient to benefit from the deal, Tim Brierley, 56, had his gall bladder removed in 2016 and said it was a “totally stress-free experience” in Calais after a 10-month NHS wait.
An NHS South Kent Coast spokesperson said its contract with Calais CHU gave greater patient choice, adding: “There is no reason why the contract should not continue after Brexit. We have a very good relationship with the French health service in Calais.”