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Medical Tourism: Top 5 European Countries With The Smallest Patient Backlog

Since 2020, the world has been subjected to unprecedented times with the outbreak of coronavirus and Covid-19 continues to have a severe effect on planned surgery and medical treatments all over the globe.

Orthopaedics, oral surgery, and plastic surgery seem to have been particularly affected, and even cancer surgery has been delayed, in the UK alone, comparing November 2020 to the same period the previous year, the percentage of patients having cancer surgery within one month of the decision to treat dropped from 92% to 88%1.

What is a backlog?

Backlog is the event where the demand for procedures and appointments are unable to be met by that country’s healthcare system. This often leads to patients with serious illnesses, that affect their quality of life, being left untreated for months longer than expected.

So, to rectify this, patients now rely on the healthcare system of countries with lower waiting times than theirs and sometimes it means travelling long distances to ensure they get the right treatment fast.

Why is there such a backlog?

During the pandemic, operating theatres and outpatient clinics closed to treat covid affected patients and also redeployment of staff to cover the large increase in corona patients within hospitals. In addition, hospitals were a large source of infection and many staff became infected / had to isolate as a result and were not able to work, causing further delays. Also, with new protective procedures in place, for both the healthcare professionals and the patients, treatment and flow of patients takes longer and this causes knock-on effects.

So which countries have less backlog and fewer waiting times?

  1. Italy

Italy’s median days wait for medical appointments (including consultation, operation and non-invasive procedures) is 24 days2. This is over ten days less than the second country on this list and is set to reduce even faster now that their COVID rates are declining thanks to a rapid vaccination programme. The country’s quick turnaround, innovative approach and good standard of care are placing them above other more competitive medical tourist hotspots. Italy also provides innovative and novel treatments compared to some of its neighbours. For example, several hospitals are participating in high-level medical research utilising novel procedures/techniques, such as San Raffaele Psedale. Even during these unprecedented times, this research never paused.

  1. Denmark

Denmark’s median days wait for medical appointments is 36 days. Denmark is often compared to its surrounding countries and even the U.S for its progressive healthcare system. Healthcare regulatory bodies explain the low mortality rate is due to its success and high budget, with 10% of its GDP going to the health infrastructure.

  1. Sweden

Sweden’s median days wait for medical appointments is 51 days. One of the leading reasons why Sweden ranks so high up on this list is their 0-30-90-90 rule, which guarantees no delays or build-up of missed appointments. This rule ensures that a patient will be provided with instant access to medical advice, no more than a seven-day wait to attend an appointment with a general practitioner and no more than 90 days to attend an appointment with a specialist for surgery 90 days after a diagnosis.

  1. United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s median days wait for medical appointments is 65 days. Thanks to the highly advanced private healthcare in the U.K, the median average wait for accessing healthcare is brought up to 4th place. In the many private care groups, independent clinics and centres patients are usually seen within a week or so after submitting a query, and tests are arranged within a few days of that.

  1. Spain

Spain’s median days wait for medical appointments is 74 days. In 2019, Spain was evaluated and ranked better than over 150 other nations based on its life expectancy, environmental health (pollution, clean water, food quality) and health risks (obesity and other lifestyle conditions). Spain was awarded a 92 out of 100 based on the above criteria, knocking out most other European countries by miles on the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index3.
Having a healthier population means there will be fewer people needing operations and other procedures to free up more appointments for others.


If patients are looking to beat the queue in their own country, access treatments faster and potentially with more novel techniques, we would recommend seeking medical care in these suggested countries. Not only are they beautiful countries to visit in terms of culture and tourism, but they also have impressive patient turnaround times and excellent quality of care.


  1. BMJ