War hero forced abroad for hernia op

By Lisa Cleverdonin BerlinA DETERMINED pensioner who was told he would have to wait nine months for a hernia operation in England has undergone a successful operation in Germany.

By Lisa Cleverdon

in Berlin

A DETERMINED pensioner who was told he would have to wait nine months for a hernia operation in England has undergone a successful operation in Germany.

The East Anglian Daily Times revealed last week how Geoffrey Horne, 82, from Bures, had decided to fly to Germany for the operation to cure a groin hernia after being told he faced a lengthy wait for surgery on the NHS.


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He had been referred to Colchester General Hospital and had received a letter from Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust saying it would be 13 weeks before he could see a specialist - and he would then have to wait up to nine months for an operation.

Suffering with debilitating symptoms, the usually active pensioner's illness meant he was unable to keep fit or go swimming, pursuits that he has enjoyed for many years.

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The former RAF air gunner, who flew in countless Second World War missions in Europe and north Africa, decided to opt for a private operation, only to discover it could cost him thousands of pounds in Britain - more than the £820 he has paid for the same treatment in Europe.

So Mr Horne travelled to Stansted Airport yestetday and boarded an early-morning Air Berlin flight to Germany, three weeks after contacting a German private health care company on the internet to book the surgery.

On board the plane, he spoke of his frustration at having to travel abroad for the operation, but said he was not worried about the impending surgery.

“I am not at all anxious because the staff at the hospital in Berlin have been absolutely wonderful and gone to great lengths to reassure me,” said Mr Horne.

“I have every faith in the German surgeon and it is just such a shame that I was unable to get the same level of care at home.”

Not long after landing in Berlin, Mr Horne walked the two-minute distance from his hotel to the Ambulantes Operationszentrum, where he met with anaesthetist and owner, Christel Stoeckel.

Before the operation, Mr Horne also met with the surgeon who would be performing the operation, Rolf Peters-Eckhard.

“I am just so happy that the day has finally arrived and now I just want it all over and done with,” said Mr Horne.

“The hospital has given me all the info that I could have needed and it is all done on such a personal level. It has all helped to ease the anxiety of having the operation, which is something you would just not get on the NHS.”

Less than an hour after the operation begun, Mr Peters-Eckhard gently stitched up the small incision made below Mr Horne's stomach and within minutes the pensioner was awake.

He was taken straight to a recovery room, where he was able to eat and drink for the first time in hours.

“I just can't believe that it was all over so quickly,” he said, speaking from his hospital bed. “The people here have been so wonderful and I have been treated better than I ever would have been at home.

“I can feel where the incision was made, but it does not hurt and now I just can't wait to get home and get back to normal again.”

lisa.cleverdon@eadt.co.uk

MORE than 50 years ago RAF air gunner Geoffrey Horne risked his life for his country in the Second World War.

But this week the inadequacies of Britain's National Health Service forced the pensioner to fly to Germany for a hernia operation, a trip that would rob his savings of more than £800.

The 82-year-old, who up until yesterday had never been in a hospital, made the 90-minute trip to Berlin after he was told he could face a wait of up to nine months for the same treatment in his own country.

With the simple operation costing anything up to almost £3,000 in one of England's private hospitals, Mr Horne thought he had no choice but to look to another country for help.

With a waiting list of just five days for private care and as little as two weeks for the operation in one of Germany's state hospitals, the British health system is no comparison.

General surgeon Rolf Peters-Eckhard, who carried out Mr Horne's operation in Berlin's Ambulantes Operationszentrum yesterday, said he was appalled at the lengthy waiting times facing patients in England.

Just last week Health Secretary John Reid promised a more personalised NHS service with shorter waiting times.

But with more people seeking treatment abroad, the Government seems to have a long way to go before the public is convinced.

“English people coming here for treatment is good news for us, but they should be able to get the treatment they need in their own country,” said Mr Peters-Eckhard.

“A hernia is not an operation that must be done within a few days of diagnosis, but it is something that needs treatment and to wait nine months or more is just far too long.”

Christel Stoeckel, anaesthetist and owner of the private hospital, agreed. “We have had 15 English patients here since August and the numbers are increasing,” she said.

“We find it hard to understand why people have so much difficulty in getting the treatment they need in England, especially something as a hernia operation because it is so easy and quick to do.”

The day hospital means the most people are able to go home the same day as their operation. The specialist staff are trained to perform a variety of operations, including work on varicose veins and gynaecological problems.

Mrs Stoeckel added: “The business generated by English patients is growing, but I think it would be better if these people got the treatment they needed at home.”

Despite promises of a better NHS, Mr Horne is just the latest in a long line of Britons to travel all over the world for surgery they are unable to or cannot afford to get in England.

Speaking from the hospital, Mr Horne said: “Luckily, I have been able to have the operation while the hernia is still in its early stages, but without the treatment my quality of life would have been severely reduced.

“In England, I felt as though I was just an old person, but the German hospital staff have made me feel as though I am both a patient and customer.

“I still feel as though my journey has been completely unnecessary, but unfortunately this is what we are faced with until the Government does something about it.”

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