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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Emine Sinmaz

Cheshire man whose fiancee died in Turkey warns of medical tourism risks

Emma Morrissey and Jon Burt
Emma Morrissey with Jon Burt. She had travelled to Antalya for a gastric sleeve operation, which is about four times more expensive in the UK. Photograph: Emma Morrissey

A man whose fiancee died after weight-loss surgery in Turkey has warned about the risks of medical tourism.

Jon Burt said Emma Morrissey, 44, had always struggled with her weight but did not meet the criteria to have bariatric surgery on the NHS. She travelled to Termessos hospital in Antalya for a gastric sleeve operation, which is about four times more expensive in the UK.

Morrissey, from Warrington, Cheshire, died from internal bleeding on 8 July 2022, the day after a surgeon punctured her abdomen during the procedure.

Burt said he hoped her death would raise awareness about the potential dangers of having surgery abroad. “Hopefully it stops one person going over there and ending up in the same situation,” he said.

“You have got to do your research, because we found a proper hospital, but there are places that are a lot less scrupulous than where we went to and given what’s happened to us, you’ve really got to think about the risks involved.”

At least 25 British citizens have died during medical tourism trips to Turkey since January 2019, according to the Foreign Office. Several publicised cases have involved bariatric surgery, including at least three this year.

At an inquest into Morrissey’s death, the Cheshire coroner Jacqueline Devonish criticised the fact that Morrissey, who had two children, had been reported in Turkey as dying of natural causes and not the “massive bleed” that killed her.

Last month, the coroner also issued a prevention of future deaths report to Regenesis Health Travel, the Warwickshire-based firm that arranged the operation without checking if Morrissey was fit for the procedure.

Burt said he and Morrissey thoroughly researched weight-loss surgery in the UK and abroad before booking through Regenesis, which has partnerships with hospitals in Turkey. It describes itself as offering “quality healthcare at affordable costs to a broader segment of people … through medical tourism”.

Morrissey was 19kg (3st) overweight but was not eligible to have the surgery on the NHS, where patients have to have a BMI of 40 or more, or a BMI between 35 and 40 and an obesity-related condition.

A private operation in the UK costs about £12,000. The couple paid Regenesis £2,800, which included return flights and five days’ accommodation for both of them.

Burt said he had been shocked to discover that some travel agencies in the UK were recommending the surgery at overseas locations that he discovered were office blocks. The couple felt assured in choosing Termessos, a relatively new private hospital that served the local community.

Burt said he became concerned when Morrissey did not return from the operating theatre after four hours. After pushing for answers, he found out that she had suffered a bleed and had in fact been in ICU for three hours.

The surgeon updated Burt about Morrissey’s condition throughout the night as she suffered a series of cardiac arrests. “He did just keep saying: ‘She is very gravely ill. It is very, very serious,’” Burt said. “It was just a case of waiting and waiting. But I could see on his face, I could see how concerned he was.”

Morrissey died that lunchtime, three weeks after Burt proposed to her. When he flew back to the UK with Morrissey’s body he found a wedding magazine they had ordered waiting on their doorstep. “It’s always the little things that get you,” he said.

Burt said Morrissey’s friends and family were “absolutely destroyed” by her death. “Emma was a massive part of the community around here. I still go into the local and people come up to and say: ‘Emma was such a lovely girl, you looked so happy together.’ To have all of that ripped apart is just devastating. I’m still numb and I’m quite a strong person. Even now I still can’t think forward,” he said.

He found out about some of the issues in Morrissey’s care only at the inquest, which the Turkish surgeon did not attend. The coroner criticised Regenesis for making “no independent inquiries to satisfy themselves that Emma was fit for the gastric sleeve procedure” and asking “unclear” pre-assessment questions.

Devonish also said there had been “no evidence of an investigation into the operating table death” by either the company, the hospital or the ministry of health in Turkey.

Burt believes that intermediary companies such as Regenesis should share more data with the NHS. He said: “Whilst nothing can be done about the hospitals outside the UK, we need to know what is happening to the ones we love. There needs to be statistics at least so everyone can make an informed decision. If those arranging the procedures were required to share data with the NHS we would understand more what is happening abroad.”

Regenesis said it did not want to comment.

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