NHS patients in Kent could soon be travelling to France for surgery under a new deal being finalised.Centre Hospitalier de Calais has bid to provide services to patients in the county, NHS commissioners said.

South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said the “finer details” were being worked out.

People who chose to have treatment in France would pay for their own travel and incidental costs. Unison said it was an “admission of failure”.

Hazel Carpenter, chief accountable officer for South Kent CCG, said treatment in France would be an option if a patient wanted it, in discussion with their GP.

She said commissioners recently invited organisations to provide general surgery, gynaecology, cataract surgery, pain management and orthopaedics to apply for the work, and two French providers applied as well as several English providers.

“We carried out a careful assessment of the services they offer and are visiting sites,” she added.

“The two French providers, among others, fulfilled our criteria and we expect to finalise a contract with them.”

Analysis: Mark Norman, South East Today Health Correspondent

The devil is in the detail here. It seems a good idea to use spare capacity in France for NHS patients needing general surgery, but…

Both the French hospital and the NHS say Calais clinicians will share patient information with NHS GPs but the hospital director in Calais was unsure how that would work in practice

While the NHS has said post-operative checkups could be done in France or via Skype it remains to be seen if patients will be prepared to travel or use the technology available.

What happens if something goes wrong? – 24-hour access to the surgical team sounds great but will sick patients have to cross the Channel?

And it’s the NHS who will have to pay for their care after a month.

Meanwhile, the East Kent Hospitals Trust, already in special measures and struggling financially, could now lose the income from up to 300 patient operations a year.

The French hospital hopes to see the first UK patients before Christmas and plans to treat between 300 and 400 NHS patients per annum.

Martin Trelcat, general manager of the Calais hospital, said it had been giving English classes to about 70 nurses and language would not be a barrier.

Simon Bolton, Unison spokesman, said it was “an admission of failure” by the NHS.

He said the CCG had failed to make sure the NHS could tackle waiting lists, which he said were lengthening because of government cuts.

Adding that patients wanted to be treated as quickly and as close to home as possible, he said: “The idea that this is some great consumer choice is frankly crazy.”

Damian Collins, Folkestone and Hythe MP, said it was sensible to use a fantastic hospital that might be less than an hour away from some and more accessible than hospitals in London.

He said using Calais would help deal with NHS overcrowding and added: “If this deal hadn’t been struck, I’m sure we’d have had people coming to us saying there’s capacity in the hospital in Calais.”

‘Comparable costs’

A spokeswoman for the NHS South East Commissioning Support Unit said the deal was not a waiting list initiative but rather about following EU competition rules which gave patients more choice.

She said French providers would operate like other NHS referrals where GPs would share patient information and also receive discharge and care plan details after the treatment.

French and English providers were bound by the Data Protection Act with regard to patient records, she added.

Providers would give patients 24-hour access to the surgical team for two weeks after treatment, and would pay for any readmission to hospital within 30 days of discharge.

And follow-up checks after surgery could be done by phone or Skype or at another visit to the hospital, she said.

She said the cost and distances of choosing a London or French hospital were easily comparable.