Despite the rise in people heading abroad for cheap surgery, for those who want peace of mind when undergoing treatment, there is only one place to go: Harley Street

Words: Antonia Windsor

Medical tourism is now big business. People looking for cheap healthcare combine a holiday to Slovakia with getting their teeth whitened, or a trip to Turkey for a hair transplant. On a recent visit to a hotel in Dubai, there was a menu for cosmetic surgical treatments left in the room alongside the spa menu detailing massages. But where does the UK fit into this?

According to analysis by Future Market Insights, the UK medical tourism market was this year valued at nearly $5 billion and it is anticipated to reach £19 billion by 2032.

The report states that “the UK has always been one of the pioneers in the field of medical research, boasting of excellent facilities which are internationally recognised. Such higher standards are  attracting high net-worth medical tourists seeking treatments for various illnesses in the UK, boosting the adoption of medical tourism in the UK and creating lucrative growth opportunities”.

So whereas outbound medical tourism is about finding cheaper alternatives to treatments at home, inbound medical tourism is very much about paying for top quality.

Harley Street has long been a magnet for top medical practitioners and patients from around the UK but, increasingly, it is drawing an international clientele who are travelling not to get a treatment on the cheap, but because they want the stamp of authority and assurance that the name provides.

“People from around the world search the internet for ‘Harley Street, dentist’ or ‘Harley Street doctor’,” says periodontist Dr Reena Wadia, who moved her practice from nearby Wimpole Street five years ago.

“So there is massive kudos to being on Harley Street, not just in the Harley Street medical district but on the actual street itself.”

Dr Reena has seen an increase in enquiries and bookings since the move, and the practice has grown in that time from one surgery to four.

“We are paying a huge premium for Harley Street, compared to even neighbouring Wimpole Street, but it has paid off for us.”

The Harley Street Medical Area (HSMA) is owned by The Howard de Walden Estate, which has actively supported its tenants in courting international medical tourism in places such as the Middle East.

This month they will be taking 13 of the HSMA’s worldleading clinics and hospital groups to the Arab Health trade show in Dubai.

Mark Kildea, chief executive of Howard de Walden, said: “The Middle East is an important market with many patients from this region choosing to come to London for world-class treatment. We are excited to be returning to Arab Health 2023 with some of the area’s leading clinics and hospitals.

“The exhibition is a great international platform for us to demonstrate our work, network and showcase worldclass healthcare in action. Shining a spotlight on the strengths and expertise of our community of healthcare professionals who are renowned for providing outstanding patient care in the UK and worldwide.”

The HSMA is home to 5,000 medical specialists and 250 clinics. The area brings together a community of healthcare professionals who provide access to some of the best medical treatments and services in the world, and are at the forefront of advancing global medical practices in London.

“It feels like a community or village of physicians,” says Dr Reena. “We are all working together and we refer patients to each other. So, for example, there’s a cosmetic dentist across the road to whom we often refer patients, and a dermatologist on the first floor, who sometimes sends us patients. You wouldn’t get that anywhere else.

“Clients make a day of it, or turn it into a mini break; they do their shopping, they go for afternoon tea and in between they have a calendar of medical appointments,” she says.

Kildea agrees that the area’s main attraction for medical tourists is the unique access to such a large variety of health professionals. “One of the HSMA’s greatest strengths is its diversity. This unique collective comprises leaders in oncology, orthopaedics, optics, sports medicine, mental health, fertility, imaging, and a seemingly endless list of other specialisms, all within a mile of each other.”

Lanserhof is a name that has long been associated with medical tourism, as it was among the first health resorts to complement traditional wellness treatments with medical interventions when it developed its medical spa at Lans in Tyrol, Austria. Now it has a London outpost in Mayfair’s Dover Street in partnership with The Arts Club, directly across the street. The Lanserhof approach mixes nutrition and movement therapy with psychology and cryotherapy (the use of near freezing temperatures) and this is the first place in the UK to be able to experience its unique approach to wellness. High-end diagnostics include an MRI, movement and spine lab, heavy-metal screening, and DNA profiling, while treatments include fasting programmes, vitamin infusions, ozone therapy and those sought-after cryotherapy treatment chambers.