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My health story: my knee was replaced in France

Lesley Dobson / 19 June 2018 ( 14 August 2018 )

I avoided months of waiting for treatment in England by having my knee replacement operation in France – and so could you, says Serge Orlov.

The hospital in Calais where Serge Orlov was treated © Centre Hospitalier de Calais
The hospital in Calais where Serge Orlov was treated © Centre Hospitalier de Calais

Sport has always played a large part in my life – football, rugby and tennis. I used to do a lot of horse-riding and running, too, but when my knees started giving me problems, I had to give them all up. So I started playing golf and power-walking instead. When it became too painful to walk around the golf course, I decided my knees needed sorting out.

Knee replacements and other treatments

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I saw my GP in Deal, Kent, in February 2017 and told him about the problem. I was referred to a consultant, who looked at the X-rays of my knees and said they were both arthritic. I wasn’t entirely surprised as I’d had cartilage operations on both knees in the past; the first was 32 years ago, and the second about 15 years ago. He recommended a consultant surgeon to carry out the replacement.


Name: Serge Orlov

Condition: Arthritic knee joint

Age: 62

Treatment: Total knee replacement (TKR)

Operation carried out: 7 February 2018

Recovery: Five days in hospital (out of bed within 24 hours)

Ongoing treatment /medication: Physiotherapy and regular exercises for the new knee, to help make it stronger

So I waited, but it was July before the letter arrived. Then the appointment was cancelled. I managed to track the surgeon down at another hospital. He saw me and said he’d do the operation in December, and that I would shortly receive a letter. No letter arrived.

I discovered that I wasn’t on the list for December, but was told I might hear in March 2018. I was feeling quite let down by this time. March was months away and I was in pain.

Then I read about an arrangement between the NHS and a hospital in Calais – the Centre Hospitalier de Calais – where the operation, paid for by the NHS for the same price as it would cost here in the UK, could be carried out.

Learn more about having your knee replaced privately or abroad

I made some enquiries and spoke to the commissioning officer in Dover, who was incredibly helpful. All I had to do was get a referral from my GP. Within 48 hours of seeing the GP, and explaining what I had been through so far, and how long it had taken, I got a call to say that they had completed – and emailed – the form to Calais. Within a few days, I had a call from the hospital in Calais, giving me an appointment with a consultant there in two weeks’ time. This arrangement seems to have been a best-kept secret – if I’d known that I could have my knee operation in France within a couple of weeks of seeing my GP, I’d have gone there straightaway. It’s something I feel everyone should know about. You don’t have to wait months to have an operation.

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At my appointment at the Centre Hospitalier de Calais, my knee was scanned, I saw the anaesthetist and the consultant, and had my bloods taken. All of this happened within three hours. I couldn’t quite believe it. And they made an appointment for me to have my knee replaced. Two weeks after my initial appointment with the consultant in France, I was on the operating table in early February. The whole process, from my referral, had taken four weeks. It was unbelievable.

The hospital in Calais is modern and I had my own room, which was really quite large, an ensuite bathroom, colour TV and internet.

I spent five days at the hospital, was on my feet the day after my operation, and had pretty heavy-going physiotherapy right up until I left to come home.

A couple of days after the operation, my consultant came to see me and asked where I was going to check in for rehabilitation, as I should have physiotherapy every day. I explained that this was unlikely on the NHS because of the cost.

But I am now getting physiotherapy once a week in an NHS knee clinic, with other people who have similar problems. My progress is slow though, partly because my replacement knee is stiff and quite uncomfortable. This does happen, but my physiotherapist is confident that, if we keep exercising my knee, we can get through this.

I’m doing quite a lot of work on my knees at home. I’ve rented a Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) machine, which my physio thinks is a great idea. You plug it into an electric socket, and it exercises the knee joint. I use it for an hour, three times a day.

Knee replacement recovery tips

Despite the NHS consultant saying that both my knees were shot, I’m in no hurry to have my other knee operated on at the moment. But if I do eventually need to have it done, I would absolutely go back to the Calais hospital.    

NHS funding for operations abroad

If you live in England (this does not apply to the rest of the UK), you can choose to go to the Centre Hospitalier de Calais. Talk to your GP if you are interested in taking this route. The South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group have produced two helpful guides – a Guide for GPs referring patients to France for NHS elective treatment, and a Guide for patients referred to Calais Hospital for NHS ‘elective’ treatment.

To find out more about other possible ways of claiming NHS funding for medical treatment abroad, visit the NHS website.

This will give you information about the different options open to you, and which route you should go through. For example, if you take the S2 route, the NHS will pay for your treatment, although, in some circumstances you may have to pay a contribution. You may be able to apply for the repayment of some, or all, of this payment, on your return to the UK.

The other route is through the EU Directive, which means that you can have treatment in the state or private sector, but you have to pay for it. The NHS should reimburse the money you have paid out on treatment, directly to you. The refund will amount to whatever the cost of the treatment would have been under the NHS.

August 2018 progress update

We  talked to Serge Orlov again in August 2018 to find out how his new knee is faring. This is what he had to say:

’I have had some stiffness and discomfort following the operation, however, I will happily go back to the Calais hospital to have my right knee replaced, once I have sorted my left knee out.

‘If, as happened with my left knee, the NHS will not pay for the 5-day post-op rehabilitation in Calais, I will pay for it myself.’

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