Deborah McAleese: Turkey Health tourism booming despite warnings and horror stories


Much of the city of Izmir is yet to awaken, but not at this private clinic, run by Gözde International Hospitals, where two coaches pull up outside.

Onboard are groups of health tourists, who have just been shuttled from their hotel to the clinic.

Porters suddenly appear and help them carry their suitcases up the steps and into a rather grand entrance.

I am told the majority of these new arrivals are here for bariatric surgery.

After check-in at reception they will undergo pre-operative assessment, which entails blood tests and scans.

The hospital tells me that if they find other health conditions, or anything “high risk”during the pre-operative tests, they will advise the patient on treatment.

I was invited into one of the clinic’s many theatres to watch a surgeon perform his first bariatric surgery of the day.

Dr Mehmet told me he has carried out around 5000 bariatric procedures throughout his 20 year career as a general surgeon.

The patient he is operating on today is clinically obese and booked in for a gastric sleeve procedure.

During pre-operative assessment it was discovered she had gallstones, so she decided to have her gallbladder removed at the same time.

Health tourism is booming in Turkey. Despite some horror stories and warnings of surgeries gone wrong, there is little sign of it slowing down.

Around 80-90 percent of health tourism to this clinic for bariatric surgery are from the UK and Ireland, the hospital told me.

No doubt due to the higher cost and waiting lists at home.

The growing trend of patients from Northern Ireland travelling abroad is also due to the fact that there are no bariatric surgery provisions.

Health tourism experts I spoke to in Turkey were keen to defend the country’s medical tourism standards.

The hospital also pointed out that there can be complications in surgeries back in the UK.

For so many people in Northern Ireland who travel abroad for bariatric surgery it is their last resort.

Not only can they not access the surgery at home, there is a lack of medical and psychological support to prevent them needing this type of intervention.

Another major concern is the lack of aftercare available at home. Primary Care in Northern Ireland does not have the resource or expertise to provide that follow up medical help.

Until this major gap in health care is addressed, the numbers travelling to foreign clinics will continue to grow.

So too will the need for follow up care on an already fragile and stretched health service.

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