Prime Minister Tony Blair today defended his government's apparent U-turn on allowing NHS patients to be treated abroad. "We are a pan European community," said Mr Blair. "Why shouldn't patients be treated in Germany or France if the capacity exists in those countries that they be treated sooner?"
But Birmingham housewife Mrs Gwladys Bunions disagreed. Mrs Bunions, one of the first NHS patients to be shipped overseas under the new ruling, spoke of the poor treatment she received. "I thought I was going to some modern hospital in Berlin or Paris, but instead I ended up in a mud hut in the Gambia with some doctor in a grass skirt shaking a rattling thing over me."
Others, such as Mr Colin Colinson, 33 Collins Court, Colne, threatened to sue the NHS when an ambulance taking his wife Colleen to hospital after a suspected heart attack was diverted to Dover to await the channel ferry to Calais.
"The ambulance man said it was vital my wife arrived at the hospital within fifteen minutes," complained Mr Colinson. "But the last we heard was it would be tomorrow teatime she'd get there as the ferry was delayed by bad weather."
Health Secretary Alan Milburn admitted the scheme had encountered initial teething problems. "Yes, we have had some instances where patients have suffered through being shipped abroad. Mostly it's been language problems. You know, kidney, liver, heart transplant, they all sound the same in foreign, so there's bound to be some mistakes. But I want to make it clear that there's absolutely no risk to patients whatsoever, and those who survive are welcome to come to me with any complaints at all."