The after effects of the volcanic ash cloud continue to disrupt travel throughout the world despite flights resuming. Caroline Ratner of the IMTJ spoke to a number of people involved in different aspects of medical tourism throughout Europe about how the volcanic ash has affected them and their patients with some tragic consequences for IVF patients. They also spoke to us about their concerns about the impact the flight ban has had on the immediate and short term future of their businesses.
CZECH REPUBLIC – Gennet IVF Clinic
Anastacia Paraskou, Chief of International Patient Office explained that for some IVF patients expecting to collect their egg transfer that the flight cancellations have had a very sad and distressing impact.
“We’ve had patients who have cancelled initial appointments but more importantly and very sadly we have had patients who have not been able to pick up their embryo transfers. It’s a very bad situation for these people. We are dealing with live cells, it is not like they are samples that can be stored. Some have managed to get here by taking trains, buses and cars and we had one couple who travelled for 50 hours non-stop to get here for their embryo transfers.
Logistically this has been very painful for our patients going through IVF and donor egg programme treatments, which at the best of times is an extremely sensitive and stressful period. These procedures are obviously very time sensitive and as a result of the flight bans we are, as a clinic, having logistical problems reorganising treatment plans. We currently have ten to 15 patients from the UK and Ireland and many cycles have been prevented or postponed which also has financial implications as well.
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SPAIN – Agave Dental and Maxillofacial Clinic and Mills & Mills Medical Group
We spoke to two clinics in Spain, The Agave Dental and Maxillofacial Clinic and Marbella and Mills & Mills Medical Group. Spain is one of the most popular destinations for medical tourists and both clinics told us that they have patients stuck there from all over Europe. The Agave Clinic is currently paying for accommodation for its stranded patients.
The Agave clinic is a Dental and Maxillofacial clinic in Marbella. They see at least 15 British patients a month for extensive dental treatments. These procedures are at least 50% cheaper than the UK. They also perform facial feminisation surgeries on British patients and have operated on 20 patients since the beginning of 2010.
Dr Bart Van de Ven Director of the Agave Clinic says;
“The travel situation has caused considerable disruption to both our patients and our staff. We have had to cancel and reschedule 30 UK consultations because my flight to the UK was cancelled. We had several patients at the clinic that had surgery with us that couldn’t return home. We did everything we could to ensure that they were well taken care of and we assisted them in finding alternative ways to get them back to the UK. Five patients who were due to fly here on the first weekend of the ban couldn’t make it and we have had to reschedule their procedures. At the moment we are not suffering financially but if we have to keep cancelling ops and consultations business will ultimately begin to suffer. We all just have to remain positive and hope and pray that the ash will dissipate soon”.
Visit Agave Dental and Maxillofacial Clinic
David Mills director of Mills & Mills Medical Group which specialises cosmetic surgery and is part of The Hospital Group says:
“Our patients that have booked for surgery during the crisis have been offered surgery in the UK with The Hospital Group, most of these patients cannot wait because they have organised leave from work so it is the most sensible solution for them. Some of our patients are prepared to wait but are nervous to reschedule their flights in case they travel here to Spain and then cannot return to the UK. We did have some patients stranded here but we arranged special room rates with hotels and we tried to organize different ways to get them home. We have helped 2 patients catch a ferry from Santander but then found that even getting ferry tickets a challenge.”
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THE MEDICAL TOURISM EVENTS – Destination Health and 2nd Conference in Medical Tourism, Croatia
Two European medical tourism events have been affected by the ash cloud, Destination Health which was due to take place in London on the first weekend of the flight ban and the 2nd Conference in Medical Tourism, Croatia.
Destination Health, a consumer and mini trade event for the growing numbers of UK medical tourists, was the first casualty of the flight ban. It was due to be held last weekend at London’s Olympia but the organisers had no choice but to reschedule the event for the weekend of 26th and 27th June as over 90% of the exhibitors were unable to get to London as a consequence of last Thursday’s flight ban. Event organiser, Nav Mann, of Bluewater Events remains positive that; “despite this huge upset caused by recent events exhibitors remain upbeat and are understanding of the situation and while this has no doubt been a setback I am determined to make this an annual event.”.
Visit Destination Health
The 2nd Conference in Medical Tourism, Croatia went ahead this weekend because the event was for Croatian medical tourism companies and hospitals; however there were some changes to the seminar programme because of the ability of various speakers to get to Croatia.
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THE FACILITATOR - Perfect Profiles, medical travel facilitator to Hungary & Poland
Mike Silford of travel facilitator Perfect Profiles, organises dental and cosmetic surgery trips to Hungary and Poland.
“We had a six patients stuck in Hungary but managed to repatriate them all because we have run a full office in Hungary we were able to coordinate transport for them and helped them get back. We got them all booked on commercial coaches via Budapest which included ferry crossing. The biggest misery for us is that this is coincidentally one of our busiest times of the year, we had up 12 people going to Hungary for treatment and they all cancelled. Fortunately it doesn’t affect us financially because all flights are refundable, the Hungarian airlines are refunding flights as per EU rules and the hotels are not charging for cancellations. We had two members of staff that were meant to be flying out but they couldn’t get there. Our main concerns are when are we going to be able to rebook with the confidence that patients will be able to fly back. Fortunately the Vital Centre is large enough to accommodate an influx of patients re-booking their flights alongside usual patients. In addition we are fortunate in that we can accommodate patients that were supposed to fly to Hungary and Poland for treatment at our brand new UK Vital Centre, based just north of London which means that we haven’t let any patients down even though everyone has cancelled their travel plans. I’ve been in the travel business for a long time and I’ve never known anything like this, it’s an unprecedented situation.
I am concerned about how it’s affecting the business in the short term but I don’t think it will have any impact in the mid to long term, but I know it will slow up business for a while because people are hesitant to get on flights in case they can’t get back. The biggest worry for me is that people are not going to be able to get back. I’m not expecting to get fully back on track with our overseas dental and cosmetic surgery patients until next month.
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THE INSURANCE COMPANY – Angelis Insurance Services
Leila Wilcox is Director and Founder of Angelis Insurance Services Ltd, the first company to provide travel insurance for medical tourists. Leila says that they have had several panicked emails from people delaying and cancelling their trips and have already had several claims since the flights were cancelled. She also said that enquiries and sales are down 50% since the ban but adds that; “fortunately 40% of our customers travel to Belgium for treatment and have not been affected by the flight ban because they normally travel by boat and train. Perhaps in the future people might want to consider Belgium as an option. I know if I was looking at medical tourism options for the next six months I would certainly consider Belgium as a destination.”
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