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Our View: Superficiality, not commitment, behind medical tourism push

SUPERFICIALITY often marks policy declarations by our politicians and government officials. This is why from time to time to we have heard them say they would turn Cyprus into regional centre for all types of services, from education to medicine. Nothing ever materialises because the politicians are only interested in mouthing ideas that might endear them to the media and the public. The hard work of preparing long-term plans is of no interest to anyone.

Wednesday’s announcement that the Council of Ministers had taken a decision to promote medical tourism was in line with this tradition of superficiality. Deputy government spokesman, Victor Papadopoulos said the cabinet had ratified a health ministry proposal to grant temporary licences to doctors from third countries interested in performing operations – not performed by Cypriot doctors – on foreign patients. The cabinet’s decision was taken as part of the efforts to promote medical tourism in Cyprus, said Papadopoulos.

Could anyone seriously believe that granting temporary licences to foreign surgeons to perform a few dozen operations a year in Cyprus would promote medical tourism? Even most of the money that would be paid for these operations would be taken out of the country by the foreign surgeons, hence the economic benefits would be minimal. So what would be gained from medical tourism? According to Papadopoulos, Cypriot doctors would be able to improve their knowledge by attending the operations performed by the foreign surgeons.

The truth is that to attract medical tourism a country needs not only several well-equipped hospitals, but also many specialist doctors. Cyprus has neither because the small population cannot justify the creation of big general hospitals or allow the development of the level of specialisation that would attract patients from abroad. We now have three medical schools without a proper training hospital for the students, although it has been said they would use Nicosia General Hospital.

If the government were serious about developing medical tourism it would first have had to carry out an in-depth study of how this could be achieved. We suspect that as soon as it saw the level of investment required, in equipment, facilities and human resources to turn Cyprus into a regional medical centre it would immediately abandon the plan.

But talk is cheap and often ambitious ideas are used to disguise the most trivial of issues. Could it be that all this talk of medical tourism was the government’s way of ensuring there was no angry reaction by Cypriot doctors to its decision to allow foreign doctors to practise in Cyprus, as this would supposedly benefit the economy?

All indications are that the government’s plans for developing medical tourism are as superficial as the plans for turning Cyprus into a regional medical centre.

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