How Thailand Has Become Britain’s Shelter for Dementia Patients
British people have been visiting Thailand for decades. Usually, it’s because they’ve come for a vacation, or they’ve come for work. Visit any busy Thai tourist resort, and you’ll overhear dozens of British voices talking excitedly.
Visit schools in any major urban area, and you’ll find British teachers there, teaching their native language to Thai children. The relationship between the two nations is, for the main part, a happy and healthy one.
Perhaps because the British have a high opinion of Thai lifestyle and culture, it now appears that they’re trusting Thailand with the most important duty imaginable. They’re sending us their sick, elderly relatives to take care of.
Thailand is rapidly becoming the default option when Brits decide to send relatives suffering from dementia overseas for treatment and support. While in some ways it’s a compliment to the quality of Thailand’s doctors and nurses that Brits would trust them with the care of loved family members so far from home, it’s also a damning indictment of the quality of care available within the United Kingdom.
A favourite topic of the British press when it comes to medical care for much of the past decade has been the concept of a ‘health lottery.’ A lottery is a game of chance. While chance is a sound principle when it comes to creating an online slots website, it’s far from desirable when it comes to healthcare.
Dementia health care in UK a game of chance
If a player puts money into mobile slots, they have no idea what the value of that money is until they’ve spun the reels. It could be several times what they put into it, or it could be nothing at all. It’s up to the fate and whims of the online slots game to decide.
Sadly, a similar system applies to British healthcare; only it’s people’s choice of location being used as a currency, and quality of care that’s the jackpot. Put simply, too many Brits are losing the game.
Under the current British system, although healthcare is nominally free for all citizens because of the National Healthcare Service, there’s a chronic shortage of beds for senior citizens with dementia and a shortage of medical professionals and carers who are adequately qualified to perform the necessary work.
If there’s a facility near the home of a dementia patient with room to care for them, then they’ll do so. If there isn’t, the family of the patient then has to perform care duties themselves or pay for a private medical facility to do it for them. Even in regions where care is available, there are fixed limits and restrictions on what the NHS will and will not pay for. That’s the nature of the ‘health lottery,’ and that’s why Brits are looking for alternative arrangements.
According to the latest statistics available, the number of qualified staff in the UK available to tend to someone with dementia is one for every six of the country’s estimated 900,000 patients. That means each member of staff is responsible for an average of six different patients every day, and that’s on top of the fact that care is often conducted in aging, outdated facilities at an average cost of one thousand pounds per week.
Dementia Care homes housing British citizens
In Thailand, the cost is 25% lower, the facilities are much more modern, and one-to-one care is standard. Dementia patients get a better quality of life at a lower cost. So long as the family of the affected person (or the affected person themselves) can afford the flight to Thailand, it becomes an easy decision to make.
A British reporter recently visited Chiang Mai and identified eight care homes that currently house British citizens with dementia . Although some of them are run by Brits who have emigrated to Thailand, others are run by other Europeans, including a state-of-the-art Swiss facility called Vivobene Village.
All of them, however, have been strategically and financially backed by the Thai Government. Those who run the facilities have spoken not only of the quality of Thai caregivers but also the cultural differences between care in Thailand and care in Europe. They feel that Thai culture encourages and fosters respect for the elderly, and close familial ties – values they believe are disappearing from modern European life.
While other countries both regionally and globally despair of having to provide medical care for foreign visitors or immigrants, Thailand has long reveled in having a reputation as a hub for medical care. In recent years we’ve heard the Government place medical care front and center as part of its ‘Thailand 4.0’ strategy.
The loosening of rules and sponsorship of companies providing care for the elderly is just one facet of that initiative, which also includes a focus on leading the way in creating new medical devices. Thailand hopes to one day become the world leader when it comes to the 3D printing of prosthetic limbs and implants, as well as revolutionary medical robotics.
Foreign visitors continue to come for healthcare
While the aim is laudable and the progress made thus far is encouraging, the question of payment rates will eventually arise – especially if foreign visitors continue to come for healthcare treatments at their current rate. In 2012, Thailand was spending approximately $20bn each year on healthcare.
By 2016, that figure had passed $25bn. It was past $30bn by the end of 2019 and will be well on its way to $35bn by the end of this year. The rate of acceleration is high, and it’s primarily driven by expensive pharmaceutical imports.
The value of the pharmaceutical industry in Thailand was a little below $6bn at the end of 2015. By the end of 2020, it’s currently projected to be a whisker below $9.5bn. Right now, the government is staying on top of the expenses, but it’s difficult to see how they’ll continue to do so without passing the charge on to end-users at some point in the future.
Caring is part of the Thai identity, and having a global reputation as the world’s greatest caregivers is a wonderful thing. Whether the rest of the world will maintain that opinion if the cost of that care increases in the future remains to be seen.