Sun, sand and surgery

Medical tourism - full story

26 August, 2012

Reporter: Rahni Sadler
Producer: Dale Paget

Australia鈥檚 public health system is busting at the seams, with long waiting lists for elective surgery and many people suffering prolonged pain. Last year, two million Australians put off getting expensive dental treatment, with four hundred thousand languishing on public waiting lists for work on their teeth.

It鈥檚 led to a booming business in medical tourism: package deals that combine cut-price treatment abroad with a resort holiday. Sunday Night reporter Rahni Sadler followed the fortunes of one Aussie tour group as they arrived in Phuket for an unusual vacation of sunshine and surgery.

More and more Australians are travelling to Thailand鈥檚 luxurious private hospitals for everything from breast augmentations to hip replacements, root canal work to face lifts, all for roughly one-third of the price the same procedures would cost in Australia.

Australian medical authorities warn patients are taking a risk, but as much as the low price, many Aussies are lured by the shorter turnaround: procedures that would have a year-long wait here can be organised in just a week in Thailand.

The Australian Medical Association admits long waiting lists are driving a new boom in medical tourism, but warn against travelling overseas because risks are higher and after care is difficult to arrange.

The before and after results Rahni witnessed will make you question how it鈥檚 so easy to jump the queue for medical treatment overseas.

Sadler and the Sunday Night team followed a large tour group run by Somnio International Medical Holidays. You can also visit their Facebook page.

Many of the patients we spoke to were treated at Plastic Surgery Phuket and Dental Phuket.

Australians can also visit the Australian Medical Association for information and advice.