The Polish government is promoting the nation as a world-class centre for medicine: certainly the prices seem hard to argue with
The facilities would make any NHS manager envious. The doctors are experts with world-class success rates. The prices are often half what you’d pay at home. Why, then, are more of us not travelling to Poland to have routine medical treatments carried out?
For several years expat Poles have been returning home to get expensive dental work, plastic surgery and procedures such as hip replacements done at 30% to 60% of the cost they would pay in their adopted country.
Now a Polish government-backed initiative is promoting medical tourism into the country, targeting non-Poles from across the world, particularly those in Scandinavia, Germany, eastern Europe – and the UK. Those behind the plan hope Poland’s location at the heart of Europe – along with its plethora of low-cost flights, cheap accommodation, and attractive tourist cities such as Krakow – will be enough to tip the increasingly competitive battle for medical tourism in Poland’s favour.
The EU directive that came into force last year giving consumers the right to use health services in other European countries will only further its bid to become the medical tourism centre of Europe, officials hope.
At the very swish Dentestetica dental clinic on the outskirts of Krakow, one of the owners, Dr Krzysztof Gonczowski, tells his multilingual staff that their mission is to “drill, fill, and bill”. He has developed a one-stop-shop business model that other Polish clinics are increasingly adopting.
His clinic is packed with the very latest equipment that makes your correspondent’s Hertfordshire NHS dentist look like something out of the dark ages – equipment, says Gonczowski, that enables his staff to offer the most sophisticated procedures in a five-day window. Clients from abroad typically save £2,500, making the £100 Ryanair flight look like an incidental cost.
“We offer clients the complete package – we pick them up at the airport and they can stay in our apartments next to the clinic,” he says. “They can visit the beautiful city of Krakow while getting their treatment done by staff, who are absolute experts in their field. The treatment plan is designed to fit entirely around the customer.”
Implants that cost around £2,500 in the UK can be had at Dentestetica for under £1,000, while ceramic veneers are half the £600 UK price.
Maciej Szarek, a financial adviser who has lived in Edinburgh for 12 years, was visiting last week and plans to return to the clinic later in the year to have his problematic wisdom teeth removed: he expects to pay half the UK cost for the treatment, which will require the removal of part of his jaw.
“My local clinic in Edinburgh is fine for routine work, and the staff are nice, but you just have to look at the facilities here – it’s like another world. And financially it makes every sense.”
At the busy Carolina Medical Centre, a three-hour train ride away in Warsaw, Adam Tarnawski shows off the clinic’s state-of-the-art MRI scanner, which has helped to make the centre – owned by Bupa – the go-to facility for the nation’s professional athletes.
The site specialises in treating anterior cruciate ligament injuries, which have ended many footballers’ careers, and carried out 266 knee surgeries and 60 hip replacement last year. It will typically treat victims for around a third of the UK’s private treatment cost, but, despite that, Tarnawski is not keen to focus on the price.
“We are all about providing the highest-quality treatment, which also happens to be at a lower price,” he says. If you want the lowest prices you will always find other clinics that will charge less. Our aim is to provide the best quality – but with savings.”
Across Warsaw at the Swedish-owned Medicover centre – recently named Polish international hospital of the year – the facilities are even more plush, but there is curious absence of patients. The French managing director and other executives make a great play of how they have started benchmarking the 180-bed facility against the best US hospitals, to “drive standards to the highest level they can possibly be”. Their low infection rates, they say, are greatly helped by the fact that hospital is under five years old and was purpose-built to be easy to clean. So far most of their non-Polish customers have largely come from Norway and Sweden.
According to Magdalena Rutkowska, who heads Poland’s medical tourism development programme, which is 75% funded by EU money, around 320,000 people visited the country for treatment in 2012 – of which 42% came for plastic surgery, notably breast implants. A third came to use dentists, while 9% came for obesity-related treatments such as gastric bands, which in Poland typically cost 40% of the €10,000 EU average.
“We understand that people have outdated images of Polish medical facilities but we are here to say we now have world-class facilities,” she says.
“It amazes me that people can be asked to pay $100,000 for heart bypass surgery in the US, but they can fly nine hours to us, they can have as good or better treatment, and pay just $15,000.”
She says success rates at Poland’s Bocian IVF clinic are 10% better than rivals in Spain, Germany and in the UK. IVF, which can be ruinously expensive in Britain, costs between €2,000 and €3,000 per cycle – around a third of the cost of the cheaper UK providers.
Across the country clinics are being built, although Rutkowska admits that finding clients will be hard as countries around the world vie to grab medical tourism dollars. Turkey is moving fast into this arena, and there is already competition from India, Thailand, Malaysia and Lithuania. As a result her next target is UK medical insurance firms, which have so far been reluctant to get involved. In July she is leading a trade mission to London in a bid to persuade insurers to offer Poland as a destination.
The author travelled as a guest of Polandmedical tourism.com