England’s National Health Service (NHS) is going through one of the most difficult times in the last decade. Record numbers of patients are having to wait years for elective surgery or hospital treatment. In hopes of getting help sooner, more and more UK and Irish citizens are moving to Lithuania.
According to Ugnė Perevičiūtė, a medical representative at “Fi Clinica”, the boom in medical tourism started in the summer of 2020, when quarantines delayed a number of UK NHS operations. “Plastic surgery has always been popular, but in recent years there has been a marked increase in demand for weight loss surgery and orthopaedic treatment. The number of such patients has doubled,” she says.
Patients with orthopaedic problems find it difficult to walk and are in a lot of pain. These patients are often forced to look for an alternative to improve their quality of life faster. According to U. Perevičiūtė, foreigners often choose orthopaedic surgery and recovery procedures in Lithuania because their surgeries being half the cost, shorter queues, qualified medical staff who speak excellent English, and short flights from different countries.
Patient Marina’s story is one of many
Marina Stock, who lives in Wales, worked for years at a stationary job before suffering an injury. Over time, she began to experience wear in both her knee joints. Eventually, the pain in her knees that had been tormenting her for almost ten years became so severe that she was able to walk longer distances only with the help of her husband.
In 2021, after a visit to a physiotherapist, Marina heard the painful news. She urgently needed both knees replaced. In her home country, even in severe pain, a surgeon would not have examined her for at least a year. Without waiting, she turned to Lithuanian specialists.
At the Kaunas-based treatment facility “Fi Clinica”, she had one knee joint replaced and a general knee endoprosthesis just a few months later. Three weeks after the operation, Marina exercised, and her health improved rapidly.
“Three months later, just before the New Year, I had a video call with a doctor from Lithuania. Doctor Aurimas Širka was very happy with the progress I had made. I found out that I will be able to have my next knee surgery in six months. I booked new flights about two weeks after my return,” says Ms Stock.
Back home, Marina was faced with the painful reality that, like thousands of other NHS patients, she had to wait 150 weeks, almost three years, for her second knee operation back home. “I knew that if I waited for the operation in my home country, not only would I be worse off than I was before the operation, but probably because of the irregularity of my walking after the operation, my hip would also start to wear,” says the patient.
More and more younger patients are arriving
According to Aurimas Širka, the orthopaedic-traumatologist who operated on the patient, orthopaedic problems are usually caused by genetics, age or trauma. If left untreated, arthrosis leads to progressive wear and tear of the knee joint, which causes severe pain and restricts movement. Marina was diagnosed with grade 3 arthritis in both knees.
“We individually assessed the patient’s knee condition and selected the Evolution® Medial-Pivot Knee System, which provides optimal knee flexion stability, and anatomical movement and limits wear to a maximum. The innovative prosthesis restores the natural anatomy of the knee joint, creating the conditions for natural movement of the quadriceps and patella, thus allowing freedom of movement,” says the surgeon.
This case is unique, according to the doctor. “Normally, after the first knee replacement, the patient has to wait 2-3 months for the restoration of movement and muscle function. In this case, the implant reduced the pain and allowed the natural function of the knee to be replicated. This allowed Marina to follow the exercise plan faithfully and quickly and easily strengthened her leg muscles. So, we were able to perform the second knee surgery after just six months”, says the doctor.
“Research has shown that taking care of the knee and exercising before knee replacement gives the best long-term results,” says the doctor.
Each patient’s situation is treated with the utmost responsibility. First of all, all the necessary tests are carried out to select the most appropriate treatment for the patient. The latest treatment techniques can be applied to young and active patients, who, according to Širka, are coming from abroad in increasing numbers. It shortens the patient’s recovery time after surgery, reduces pain and allows them to get back to their preferred activities as soon as possible.
Treatment costs half as much
Each trip costs Marina £8,000. This includes flights, surgery, travel insurance, transport, hotels and a recovery period at the spa. She says the trip is worth every penny compared to the experiences of people she knows.
“Several of my friends have had knee and hip surgery in the UK. They spent a lot of money but didn’t get the care and service they would have received in Lithuania. When they find out how much everything costs me, they are shocked. My whole trip was half the cost of a private operation in the UK,” says Marina Stock.
Many Brits are reluctant or unwilling to leave their country, she says. “I’ve heard that I’m very brave because I’m travelling so far. I’m not really like that; it’s just that the care here is top-notch. As soon as I landed at the airport, I didn’t have to worry about anything else. I was accompanied, looked after and cared for throughout the whole journey, right up until I got back on the plane. That’s another reason why I came back here”, says the patient.