Farmer has hip op in India
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18 March 2008
Stuart Agnew – operation in India
Farmer Stuart Agnew knew that major surgery was on the cards as his hip
became increasingly more painful during a busy lambing season.
But for the 58-year-old, being at the mercy of NHS waiting lists was a daunting
thought as he tried to negotiate his way through a hectic farming calendar.
Eventually, the pain became so intense that he felt forced to take action and
sought out private treatment halfway across the world in India.
Yet there was an unexpected bonus awaiting him when he discovered he could not
only have the surgery at a time to fit in with the day-to-day business of
running the farm, but save himself £5,000 in the process.
Mr Agnew, who represents the county on the NFU’s national council, became so
frustrated at struggling around his farm at Helhoughton, near Fakenham, that he
searched the internet for an overseas surgeon and braved a nine-hour flight to
He said the NHS was unwilling to operate on his arthritic hip until it required
a full replacement, and any private surgery in the UK would have cost £10,000.
In contrast, his Indian surgeon carried out a hip-resurfacing – in which a metal
“umbrella” is inserted to shield the joint – for £3,200 and on a date that
suited the family farm.
The hospital where Mr Agnew had his operation
Yesterday, some six weeks after his operation, Mr Agnew was back to work and
said the growing trend of health tourism suited the needs of the self-employed.
Dr Balasubramanian, based in southern India, had trained at the Queen Elizabeth
Hospital in King’s Lynn and was willing to arrange the surgery for early
February, when the farm was at its quietest.
Mr Agnew said: “At that time of year there isn’t much to do with the sheep, the
chickens are not laying and there is nothing really going on with the arable
“This would appeal to a certain type of person and I think you have to be robust
and adventurous. To some it will feel like a big risk.
“But if you are self-employed and your work is critical and you need to plan
everything around it, then I think it can be worth it, and to save £5,000 –
that’s a lot of money.”
Mr Agnew’s hip began giving him problems in October 2005 and within two months
he went from being fit and active to walking with a limp and needing help to get
out of a chair.
“It was hopeless,” he said.
“To run was dreadful, and lambing time was really bad in 2006; I just couldn’t
get around, and of course the less you exercise, the fatter you get and the more
pressure it puts on the joint.
“I was getting really disillusioned with it and my family were starting to say,
‘You’ve got to have a hip operation’, but I was worried that it would take me
out of the business and that it would cost us a lot of money.”
He investigated having an operation privately, but found it would cost “in
excess of £10,000” and he could not get a suitable date.
The surgery in India was arranged in less than four months and, with a
business-class flight, cost £5,000. Mr Agnew was walking within 48 hours and was
back in Norfolk in less than two weeks.
“It is getting easier and easier,” he said. “I feel like I can walk for miles.”
Health tourism to India is understood to be increasing at a rate of about 30pc a
year and hip-resurfacing is one of its world-renowned specialities.
The exact number of UK patients is not known but some medical agencies are
believed to arrange surgery for up to 40 Britons a month.
Andrew Stronach, of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said a trend
had developed over the past five years and patients were exercising their right
to choose the NHS, private healthcare or treatment overseas.
Lydia Aydon, head of communications at Spire Healthcare, based at the former
Bupa hospital in Norwich, said the health tourism market was limited and the
private hospital had not noticed a change in admissions.
“If you travel abroad, your family and friends cannot visit you and it is very
difficult if something goes wrong once you come home,” she said.
“The aftercare is not there and that is something most people would be wary