Unqualified staff are conducting orthopaedic surgery procedures in NHS hospitals.
That’s according to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), which claims hundreds of surgical care practitioners (SCPs) conduct actual surgical procedures, such as using power tools in orthopaedic surgery for joint replacement.
It says these former nurses and theatre assistants at NHS hospitals usually have completed just two years of training, part of which is an online course.
Because of this, the British surgeon community is now calling on the UK government to better regulate the professional standards of surgical care practitioners who operate on patients without proper training.
Expert surgeon of Nordorthopaedics clinic, a leading Lithuanian orthopaedic surgery clinic that treats many Brits, says the greatest challenge of British NHS is the lack of resources.
“I think it all comes down to the NHS’s lack of resources,” says professor Šarūnas Tarasevičius, a surgeon at Nordorthopaedics clinic, an orthopedic surgery centre in Lithuania, serving patients from all over the world, but mostly from the UK.
“Their system is understaffed and hardly copes with growing waiting lists. Therefore, it increasingly relies on the staff with lower qualifications or tries to speed up the training.
“We have different standards – only professional surgeons conduct orthopaedic procedures at our clinic. This could be one of the reasons why we are receiving an increasing interest from British patients.”
In his 15 years of surgical practice, professor Tarasevičius has himself conducted more than 2000 joint replacement operations and co-authored more than 150 scientific articles in different medical journals.
He thinks the use of medical staff with too little training and experience poses risk to patients undergoing orthopedic operations.
The RCSEd also sees the increasing use of unqualified SCPs as “a continued risk to patients.”
Therefore, the RCS together with the Federation of Surgical Speciality Associations (FSSA) has repeatedly called for the Government to put SPCs under the regulation of General Medical Council.
It is argued that this step would ensure better monitoring of professional standards of SPCs as well as the quality of their training and assessment.
The community of British surgeons has criticised the government for neglecting the strong support of statutory regulation for SCPs expressed during the consultation and expressed general concern with the inconsistency of the government policies in education, training and standards setting of SCPs.
As a result of the continuing crisis of the NHS, British patients increasingly choose to undergo surgeries in Lithuania. Orthopaedic surgery is one of the sectors were Lithuanian health tourism agencies see a growing demand on the part of patients from the UK.
“Our monthly number of patients from the UK has doubled compared to the last year,” says Dr. Tarasevičius.
“British patients look for quality medical services that they cannot get back home.
“For them, a trip to Lithuania is a much more comfortable alternative than the NHS waiting list that may take years.
“People try to take advantage of it before Brexit complicates the bureaucratic procedures of receiving treatment abroad.
Until Brexit is finalised, there are two medical tourism approaches to obtaining cross-border treatment outside the UK and having the NHS cover the cost of treatment – the EU directive and S2 route.
The EU directive is created under the premise that any EU citizen has the right for treatment in any European country. British citizens might lose access to both of these approaches under no-deal Brexit.
But even without the refund, surgery at Nordorthopaedics clinic may be an attractive alternative to the NHS system.
Professionalism and experience of the surgeons and the possibility to avoid waiting lists come at an affordable price.
For example, the price of hip or knee replacement at Nordorthopaedics is 6.700 GBP. The price includes surgery, implant, and 7-day post-surgery rehabilitation at a Druskininkai (Lithuanian resort town) medical SPA.
The price in the UK for the same type of procedure is twice as high, and doesn’t include post-surgery rehabilitation.
UK’s patients of Nordorthopaedics even have a special active community on Facebook, where they share their experiences of the treatment in Lithuania, discuss the impact of Brexit and give advice to others on how to travel to Lithuania to receive orthopaedic care.