On NHS Waiting List in UK? Get Free Treatment Now in Croatia Before Brexit

By 14 October 2018

October 14, 2018 - The 2nd Adriatic Health and Tourism Investment Forum took place earlier this week in Zagreb. It was a very international affair, offering up a host of investment opportunities and initiatives, including some surprising ones - free healthcare for NHS patients coming from the UK to Croatia, example. 

After years of writing about tourism in Croatia, the full potential of one sector which has been largely overlooked is slowly becoming clear to me. 

Health tourism and Croatia is not a well-known combination, and there are plenty undoubtedly plenty of skeptics at the thought of it, but my initial research into the topic a year ago opened my eyes and let to my first article on the subject - Health Tourism is Coming Home: Why Zagreb is the Next Big Medical Tourism Destination.  My initial focus was on three clinics - St Catherine's Specialty Hospital, a member of the Leading Hospitals in the World, offering personalised medicine, including stem cell therapy, and the official hospital of Croatia's World Cup heroes in Russia; Bagatin Clinic, perhaps Croatia's most active clinic on the global stage and winner of international awards in the fields of dentistry, cosmetic surgery and dermatology; and Svjetlost Eye Clinic, the regional leader for eye surgery with tens of thousands of successful operations at a fraction of western prices by surgeons of international standing. 

The more I looked, the more I became intrigued by the potential of medical tourism in Croatia. If the quality of care was there and the prices were affordable, Croatia had all the additional requirements to make this a true hotspot - a fantastic tourist destination, a safe country, accessible with its location in both Europe and the EU, with an educated, English-speaking population and some outstanding spas to further aid the recuperation process. A little more research into what Croatia had to offer as a medical tourism destination yielded a second article - 25 Things to Know about Health Tourism in Croatia, It was an article which caught the attention of one of the key global speakers on medical tourism, Dr. Prem Jagyasi, and his invitation and subsequent interview in Zagreb brought me to the 2nd Adriatic Health and Tourism Investment Forum this week. 

It was an interesting interview with Dr. Prem, which opened my eyes to the possibility of cross-border healthcare. If the national health insurance schemes from countries such as France, Germany and UK could forge a working relationship with private clinics in countries like Croatia, it would be a win-win for all. Shorter waiting times for patients, cheaper costs for the insurance companies, and the chance of combining treatment with a holiday for the patient. It is something that was already happening in the United States, apparently, with insurance companies incentivising patients to have treatment in Latin America.


(Arnis Krasovskis from MedRefund, right, with the team from Bagatin Clinic at the 2nd Adriatic Health and Tourism Investment Forum in Zagreb - Photo credit: Dr Prem Jagyasi)

"But NHS patients can already get free treatment in Croatia," a jovial Latvian told me over lunch. Arnis Krasovskis was one of the many international speakers at the conference in Zagreb, and his company, MedRefund, had already helped hundreds of patients on NHS waiting lists to get treatment in other European countries and have the NHS refund the cost of the treatment. And not only that, it seemed, if patients have had private treatment in countries such as Croatia, his company can also perhaps assist in NHS refunds for the work. MedRefund is already working with Croatian clinics such as Bagatin for dental, dermatology and cosmetic surgery, St. Catherine's Specialty Hosptial and Axis for spine treatment, and he was here to forge more relationships with Croatian clinics to add to his already impressive portfolio. His company's track record is very impressive, and - assuming Brexit does not upset the apple cart - it will continue to grow in the coming years. 


(150 years of health tourism tradition in Croatia, where organised tourim in Europe began back in 1868 with the founding of the Hvar Health Society)

A European Union directive came into effect on November 25, 2013, which states that a patient living in the UK has the right to choose a service provider in the EEA (European Economic Area) and can lawfully get a NHS refund for planned and unplanned treatment abroad the costs from the NHS. This means that any person living in the UK can seek healthcare abroad and be reimbursed. Areas of healthcare which can be reimbursed include:

• Emergency or necessary medical care for acute problems.
• Outpatient services such as doctor consultations, various types of diagnostics, dental care, medical care received in outpatient departments of hospitals, arthroscopic surgery, vein surgery, laser eye surgery, etc.
• Inpatient health care services that require an overnight hospital stay. In this case, prior authorisation from the NHS will be required.

"There have been 10,300 cases since November 2013," Krasovskis told me. "Of those, my company MedRefund has submitted almost 1000 applications, with 720 successful results and 200 currently in process. It is important for people to know that if patients had treatment after November 25, 2013, there is a chance to get a refund.

"If you are on an NHS waiting list, contact us, and we will prepare all necessary information and ask for NHS permission to have surgery in Croatia, including rehabilitation if necessary. Within 4 weeks, the NHS will tell us if they approve the application, and how much they will pay back. Then you travel to Croatia pay for treatment and after you return, MedRefund completes the paperwork and the money is refunded in about three months on average. If you are on a long waiting list (and in pain), this is really an excellent option, and with somewhere as gorgeous as Croatia, why not combine it with a holiday? I have heard that Advent in Zagreb is incredible.

"The process is actually very simple. Just contact us, and we will guide you through the whole process, depending on the area where you live and the diagnosis, there could be small but crucial nuances which impact the outcome of the refund. The two most popular categories are orthopedics and gynecology.

"I can give you my own example. I ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament playing basketball and went to my GP, who advised paracetamol and rest. I could not walk for two days and he then prescribed stronger painkillers. I went home to Latvia, had an MRI and got my diagnosis, submitted all docs and after 3 weeks had approval from NHS to travel. After a week I went for surgery and after I returned did the rest of the paperwork and got back the money within 2 months.

"But the usual case is that ACL ruptures are not diagnosed or the waiting time is 6-18 months. Slipped discs have a similar waiting time of 6-18 months, and of course knee and hip replacements take anything from 3- 24 months. Those waiting times can be reduced considerably in places like Croatia, and the NHS will pay. A win-win for all. Take a look at the services offered by Bagatin Clinic on our website, for example - extremely professional and wide-ranging.

"The potential for this business is huge and there are only winners in the story. The only problem on the horizon is what will happen with Brexit. It is not clear what will happen, so my advice is to grab your chance while you can and use your EU membership while you are still a member."



(Carl from the United States - read his story below)

And with Advent in Zagreb around the corner, perhaps an interesting pre-Brexit operation opportunity for some in the UK. The medical tourism/Advent in Zagreb combination is responsible for perhaps my favourite Croatian tourism story of all - the heartwarming tale of how a Zagreb clinic changed the life of one American in 10 days, while providing the holiday of a lifetime. Read Carl's story here

For more information about NHS patients getting treatment in Croatia, visit MedRefund.