Figures rise | 

Medical tourism warning as six Irish people die following surgery abroad

Turkey has become an increasingly popular destination for Irish people seeking to have dental, cosmetic and bariatric procedures carried out

Turkey has become popular for Irish people seeking to have dental, cosmetic and bariatric procedures

Amy Molloy

Six Irish people who travelled abroad for medical or cosmetic procedures have died in the last two years, new figures show.

Last year, four people died after medical tourism visits, while two people lost their lives in 2021.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was not notified of any deaths between 2017 and 2020.

With a marked increase in the number of people choosing to travel abroad for procedures, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) said its members have begun to see increasing numbers of patients admitted through emergency departments with complications after returning home.

Some hospitals have seen a near three-fold increase in people requiring emergency treatment in the last three years.

The DFA said the deaths recorded only include those it has been notified of, or where it has received requests for consular assistance.

“The department may not always be made aware of the cause of death and the figures may not represent the totality of Irish people who have died abroad while undergoing medical or cosmetic procedures,” a spokesperson added.

Turkey has become an increasingly popular destination for Irish people seeking to have dental, cosmetic and bariatric procedures carried out.

The surge in people travelling abroad for medical procedures has prompted the DFA to issue updated advice amid concerns about the rising number of people presenting at Irish hospitals with complications.

“Individuals should seek to inform themselves of both the risks and benefits of any procedures, and are advised to discuss their plans carefully with their own doctor, dentist or hospital specialist before committing to any procedure abroad,” it said.

“The DFA is aware that some citizens have experienced complications in the course of their treatment in Turkey, and a number have died following medical procedures.

“Irish citizens considering medical treatment in Turkey are advised to carry out independent research regarding the credentials of any potential service provider and to ensure that the facility is accredited with the Turkish authorities.”

In the UK, the government issued a similar warning regarding medical tourism after a number of British people died.

“We are aware of 22 British nationals who have died in Turkey since January 2019 following medical tourism visits,” it said in a statement.

It urged tourists to stick to medical providers who are approved by Turkey’s Ministry of Health.

RCSI warns flying increases risk of blood clots and infection© Getty Images

High costs, waiting lists of up to five years and the lack of availability of certain procedures in Ireland is luring people abroad, mainly to Turkey.

Concerns are now growing about the rising rate of complications due to the “conveyor belt” system being adopted by some hospitals and clinics abroad.

Patients have reported being operated on at 10pm at night and seeing “trolley loads” of people waiting to undergo cosmetic and weight-loss procedures.

Medical tourism is recognised to carry particular additional risks

The Irish Independent has previously revealed how foreign hospitals are holding roadshow events at four-star hotels in Dublin and Cork to provide free consultations and sign up prospective patients for “special offers”.

St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin also reported a near three-fold increase in the number of patients presenting with complications after undergoing surgery abroad during the pandemic.

The RCSI has warned that air travel after a procedure increases the risk of blood clots and infection.

Certain clinics and hospitals abroad allow patients to fly home within a week of surgery. They are discharging patients to hotels for their aftercare and sign off on fit-to-fly certs.

“Travelling abroad for an operation may add additional risk and you should ensure that you are fully informed before travelling abroad for surgery that is normally available in Ireland,” the RCSI said.

“Medical tourism is recognised to carry particular additional risks. You should not assume that the normal safeguards that apply to surgery and surgical procedures undertaken in Ireland are automatically in place in other countries.

“It is important to understand your rights and protections in the country where the operation is taking place as, if medical negligence or a medical error occurs, the processes may be different than would be the case in Ireland,” the RCSI added.

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