Hospital ? soon just a 10 hour flight away

Swedes facing long waits at home for state-funded medical treatment and operations will soon have the option of going to Thailand for private care, a travel organizer said on Tuesday.

“In Sweden, the waiting period for an operation or treatment can be anywhere from two to 80 weeks. That’s a long time to wait if you’re in pain…We think this offer will appeal to many Swedes,” Leif Erre, the head of the Swedish company RelaxU which is organizing the trips, told AFP.

Thailand is a top tourist destination for Scandinavians. Many are familiar with the country and its services, especially after thousands of Swedes were caught up in the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. A total of 543 Swedes were killed.

In cooperation with the Bangkok Phuket Hospital in Thailand, the company will on Thursday open an information center in Stockholm staffed by a Swedish nurse, who will help patients determine whether they should travel to the southeast Asian country for treatment.

“This is the hospital’s first information center abroad. We think this will especially appeal to Swedes because the prices are much lower” than private care in the Scandinavian country, Erre said.

Sweden’s generous social system provides virtually free health care to all residents, but queues for treatment of non-life threatening conditions are often long.

Swedes who decide to travel to Thailand will have to foot the entire bill for travel, accomodation and treatment themselves.

Erre said his company was targeting people who already use private health care in Sweden, and added that he hoped the Swedish state in the future would agree to pay for certain treatments.

Compared to private care in Sweden, the prices at the Thai hospital are far lower, he insisted, pointing out that while laser eye surgery in Sweden costs about 12,000 kronor per eye, the cost in Thailand is 14,500 kronor for both eyes.

“You may pay about the same price, but in addition to the operation you’ll get travel and a vacation,” he said.

RelaxU will also target burnout victims who feel they need an energy-boost, and expects the patients’ employers to foot the bill.

“A four-week burnout rehabilitation costs about 130,000 kronor in all. In many cases it’s a lot more expensive than that to headhunt a new employee,” Erre said, adding that his company expects to send at least 150 to 200 Swedes to Thailand for treatment next year.

The RelaxU offer is the latest example of how services in Sweden are increasingly being outsourced to countries with lower wages and lower prices.

On Monday, Sweden said it would open a drug rehabilitation center in Latvia, and a Polish dental clinic recently opened in Stockholm, offering far lower prices than its Swedish counterparts.