"KINGSBRIDGE HOSPITAL TRIED TO CHARGE ME THOUSANDS MORE FOR OP I GOT FOR FREE IN SPAIN WITH HEALTHCARE ABROAD"
A DONEGAL MAN has spoken of his ‘incredible’ experience after flying to Spain for a free knee-replacement Operation to beat the HSE waiting lists at home – and outrageous fees with Kingsbridge in the North.
Bernard McLaughlin, (70), used a little-known European law and the organisation Healthcare Abroad to access the surgery at a top private hospital in the upmarket seaside city resort of Dénia, an hour north of Alicante.
The Buncrana native, who now lives in Malin, also saved a fortune after being told he would have to fork out an extra €7,000 had he chosen to go to a private Kingsbridge clinic in Ballykelly ... or Belfast under a different scheme.
“I’ve had excruciating pains in both my knees,” said former construction worker and Fruit of the Loom driver Bernard.
“My left knee started going three years ago. It just kept getting worse. I went to my GP of course and I was then sent to see a consultant and I was told I was too young to have a knee transplant. I was 67 at the time and I couldn’t believe it.
“I was given injections instead. And for two years that did keep me going. I was getting massages too to help.
“It got to the stage that I couldn’t sleep at night.”
Bernard, a member at Ballyliffin Golf Club, was also missing his favourite pastime.
“I haven’t been able to play golf for months,” he told Donegal Daily.
“That’s the biggest thing in my life (apart from my wife Joy of course).”
Bernard was desperate to find a solution that didn’t involve up to a four-year wait on HSE waiting lists.
“I called Kingsbridge Hospital in Ballykelly and they said it was going to take 5 months for an appointment and it would cost £17,000 sterling. Firstly, I didn’t want to wait any longer. Secondly, with the HSE reimbursement, I’d have to pay €7,000 or €8,000. I was quoted more for the surgery at Kingsbridge Hospital in Belfast.
“Thankfully I found an organisation in Dublin called Healthcare Abroad who have a base in Dénia in Spain. The surgery at the HCB Hospital in Dénia costs €11,700 and the HSE will reimburse all of that.
“Healthcare Abroad couldn’t be more helpful. I got a referral from my GP and I was on the plane 10 days later. I was treated like a VIP. We were met at the airport in Dublin. We were collected at the airport in Alicante – and booked into a fabulous 4-star hotel.
“To be honest I really can’t begin to find the words to describe how I was treated. The Healthcare Abroad team were exceptional. The staff at the hospital – the nurses, the consultants, the physio team – were absolutely phenomenal. And the team at our hotel, the Daniya Denia, couldn’t do enough for you.
“I was ferried back and forward to the hospital for all appointments; and I was given 10 intensive physio sessions after surgery and I was up and about again in no time at all. Better still, Healthcare Abroad did all the paperwork for me.”
Bernard, whose late father Harry was a councillor for Buncrana, said he’d never heard of the EU Cross-Border Directive.
“I was going back and forward to hospitals for years and it had never been mentioned to me once,” said Bernard.
“I would advise anyone living with the pain I suffered not to wait another day. Get on to Healthcare Abroad and get on a plane to Spain. There’s a flight every day out of Belfast or Dublin so there’s no excuse.
“Once I’ve recovered from this knee replacement I will be back out to the HCB Hospital in Dénia to get the other one done so I can get my life back again, and back on the course at Ballyliffin.”
A Healthcare Abroad spokesperson said: “We were delighted to help Bernard access surgery in Spain under the EU Cross Border Directive. The full costs of his surgery and rehab will be reimbursed by the HSE around 16 weeks after Bernard gets home.
“Bernard recovered particularly quickly after his knee replacement and we want to wish him all the best for the future. We know he can’t wait to get back on the golf course in Ballyliffin.”
Under the Healthcare Abroad arrangements, the agency completes all paperwork to ensure the HSE refund. Patients do have to pay for the costs of flights and the hotel (€70 per room B&B) as the HSE does not refund travel costs.
My problems began with irregular periods. I went on the pill as a solution. At 25 I started getting severe back pain. I knew it always happened during my week off the pill. The doctor said there was no connection. I started attending a physio and dosed up on painkillers. My health during the week off also deteriorated and I’d spend the whole week in bed rundown. I would barely be able to go into work that week as I’d feel like I’d been hit by a bus. I decided to go off the pill. I read books on how to repair my cycle and how to transition from the pill. My period didn’t return but instead I had severe cramping and back pain. Every month I’d be bed bound when my period ... was due but I wouldn’t get it. I suffered severe bowel problems and problems with my bladder and kidneys. I had water retention. I went to my GP almost weekly with awful symptoms and attended a gynaecologist after being on a long waiting list, who gave me medication so my period would return. My period returning made my life hell. I wasn’t living. I begged for help. If I socialised at the weekend I couldn’t work. If I worked during the week I couldn’t socialise. I would be in bed straight after work with fatigue and this wasn’t just the week of my period it was all the time. The pain was so severe. I tried acupuncture, reflexology, medication, heat packs, cold packs. I couldn’t bend down to tie my shoes. If something fell on the ground I’d feel sick at the thought of picking it up. Driving left me in agony, standing left me in agony, sitting left me in agony. I had two ablation surgeries. These were laparoscopic surgeries and these were the first time I found out I had endometriosis. The surgeon told me the first time that “my ovaries were stuck to my bowel”. I was happy until my GP explained to me that this was Endometriosis. I was told by the gynaecologist that I didn’t have this painful condition so I was very disappointed that I was not given a proper diagnosis. The surgery didn’t work so I asked for more help. The second surgery was even more of a failure. Lots of endometriosis was ablated (burned off) but it grew back quickly and obviously the endometriosis that was causing me the worst pain hadn’t even been found. I knew my body and I knew I was nowhere near the solution I needed to get my life back. I went back to my gynaecologist in a state of absolute despair. I needed a solution. He said he would put me into early menopause to stop the pain. My gut told me this wasn’t a solution for me. Besides the fact I was 29 and hadn’t started a family, my mental state wasn’t ready for another hormonal treatment. I refused this and sought out other treatments. I enquired from friends and family who knew people with the condition. I wanted to know how they managed it when it got out of hand the way it had for me. That’s when I heard about getting treatment abroad. I needed a surgeon who was an expert in excision. A surgeon who excises endometriosis daily and also has a team to help when other organs are affected. I was so lucky to find out about Healthcare Abroad. Aside from the expense of the surgery abroad it was also very daunting to face going to a strange country on my own for healthcare. So when I heard that expenses would be covered and I would be with a group of similar women I was delighted. The team at Healthcare Abroad gave me a great overview of what Dr Mitroi in Bucharest, Romania was about. I read reviews from previous patients and got in touch with people who had been there through social media. I was sold. Dr Mitroi does a full body scan with amazing MRI scanners designed to find all endometriosis in the body. He is also a complete expert and was able to tell me with an ultrasound the first time I met him what I was dealing with. I had stage 3 endometriosis. I didn’t have as much bowel involvement as I thought but the bit I did have completely affected me due to its location. I had endometriosis on a lot of nerves in my pelvis. I also had Adenomyosis which is when the endometriosis is in your cervix. All my pain was explained that first day and it was all solvable. The treatment I got for my surgery was second to none. I met the anaesthesiologist the day before surgery who reassured me and told me everything they would do. I will never forget waking up and them handing me my phone straight away to message family and friends. The Healthcare Abroad team had also rang my family after surgery to tell them it was a success. The recovery was amazing. I was in the hospital for two days with constant care. I had a physio during this time, nutrition that suited my recovery and we were allowed visitors. I walked around the hospital and saw other Irish women recovering and women from other countries who had travelled to see Dr Mitroi. When I got sent back to the hotel I wasn’t on my own. We had access to the surgeon and the other doctors who attended my surgery. I went back to the clinic every morning to change dressings and to get post-op care. They told me what vitamins to take and how to take my medication effectively. This continued until my last consultation with Dr Mitroi. He took out my stitches and took all my questions and answered them truthfully and thoughtfully. I went home feeling so confident. I could also contact him any time after this surgery. One day I did have a question for him – which he answered within 5 mins (even though it was a public holiday that day in Romania). This experience changed my life. I didn’t worry once about the paperwork, the hotel, the refund from HSE, the transfers to and from the hospital or wherever I wanted to go to the hospital and back to the hotel. Every bit of that was done by Healthcare Abroad. There were three other Irish girls with me on this journey and Greg, a member of the team from Healthcare Abroad. Greg went above and beyond for us. He was on hand at all times for anything at all we would need. We all supported each other and weeks later we are still supporting each other with daily messages giving updates. When we are nervous about recovery we message each other and get reassurance. My life has changed. The world is my oyster now. I don’t have debilitating pain stopping me from doing what I want to do in life. I am the most grateful person in the world now that I have found my solution. I would have spent every penny I had if it meant a solution but Healthcare Abroad meant that I didn’t have to do that. And afterwards you are grateful for that too as it means you can start your new life without the financial worry. If you need help call Healthcare Abroad in Dublin today on 012678011. #healthcareabroad #endometriosis #bucharest