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Test surgery trip by UK patients
- After meeting in Blair’s office, first group set to travel to India

Calcutta, Sept. 15: A test case of 10 British heart patients could soon arrive for emergency transplants in India after a delegation of Indian doctors was invited to London to brief Prime Minister Tony Blair’s medical advisers on the proposal.

If successful, the deal could lead to hundreds more British heart and lung patients being sent to hospitals in Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta, in a desperate bid by UK authorities to cut vast hospital waiting lists. A second Indian medical delegation is set to visit the UK in October.

“We had a preliminary meeting at 10 Downing Street, at which the issue of migrating patients out of the UK was raised,” said Vikram Chatwal, a director of Apollo Hospitals in Hyderabad.

A spokesman for Blair’s office confirmed that the presentation had taken place, but declined to give further details. “This was a private meeting, and we don’t necessarily give details of discussions held in private,” said the spokesman.

Chatwal said: “One would hope that in the coming weeks and months, we would be able to reach some agreement with the British department of health. Potentially there is an opportunity, and we would be well equipped and willing to treat Britain’s National Health Service patients in Indian hospitals. We are working to resolve the logistical hurdles, given the geographical distance involved in such a transfer.”

Heart transplant patients, along with those awaiting hip or knee replacement, can routinely expect a year-long wait for operations in Britain.

The cost of treatment in India would be around Rs 2 lakh, a quarter of the British expense.

The initial batch of patients would be handpicked to ensure they were fit enough to survive the journey.

“We will be offering to bring an initial 10 patients to India to demonstrate the efficiency of the private system here,” said Dr Ramesh Sheshadhri, chief cardiovascular surgeon at Calcutta’s Apollo Gleneagles Hospital.

“These will be patients, for instance, who have been waiting for over six months, and are in a critical condition whereby they could be dead if they wait in Britain.”

“A package deal of Rs 2 lakh would pay for a 10-day stay for a patient, accompanied by a relative. The price includes airfare, treatment cost, food and accommodation, and post-op care,” Dr Sheshadhri said.

Apollo Hospitals is currently in negotiations with the Nestor group, a private bidding agency associated with Britain’s NHS, to organise the patients’ transfer to India. An agreement has already been reached with Emirates airline to transport the patients.

“At the Downing Street presentation, the British authorities requested our help in a number of areas,” said Dr B. Premkumar, vice president of medical affairs at Apollo in Chennai.

“Health tourism was discussed. We plan to send a team to the UK to handpick an initial batch of patients to be treated here, for anything from heart transplants to hip replacements to eye surgery to chest infections. We would select the first batch to make sure they are fit to undergo surgery without pre-operative preparations. We envisage patients arriving with a relative, undergoing the heart transplant, then staying perhaps for a short holistic holiday to recuperate. The cost-effectiveness of treatment in India makes it a tremendous advantage.”

During the meetings, other areas arose where British authorities had requested urgent help from Indian hospitals, Dr Premkumar said.

“They wanted our assistance in recruiting general practitioners (GPs) from India, saying that they anticipated a large number of retirements in 2004-05 among GPs now practising in the UK,” he said.

“They asked us for help in recruiting registrars and consultants to run UK hospitals, and in establishing diagnostic and treatment centres, in an effort to bring year-long waiting lists down to three months.”

A spokesman for Britain’s department of health confirmed: “We do have overseas clinical teams coming to work in high-pressure surgical departments in the UK.”

Apollo will also invite a team of UK experts to inspect their facilities in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Hyderabad and elsewhere.

“We are making great headway,” said Dr Sheshadhri.

“I will be discussing the deal further when I visit London in October, and will hold talks with Department of Health officials and NHS authorities. It requires some radical thinking to ease Britain’s waiting list problem. We will be apprising British health authorities of the merits of India’s top private sector hospitals.”

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