A HAMPSHIRE health insurance firm has launched an innovative low-cost medical plan offering private treatment abroad.

Passport2Health will send patients to hospitals across Europe, including France, Germany and Spain, as well as Belgium, Cyprus, Portugal, Gran Canaria and Malta.

The Whiteley-based firm said that it would also soon include Israel and Turkey in its roster of top international hospital destinations.

CEO and founder Frank Levene, a former BUPA director, said that the rising price of UK health insurance, combined with continued pressure on household spending, has left many people unable to afford cover for private treatment - leaving them faced with lengthy waits with the NHS.

He said the lower cost of private treatment in European countries, which carry out more private surgery than the UK, allows Passport2Health to offer cover up to 50 per cent cheaper than traditional UK medial insurers.

Under the Passport2Health plan, diagnosis is carried out in the UK, before admissions are made abroad.

Mr Levene said: “Millions of people in this country have gone without health insurance for themselves and their families, but with Passport2Health they can now take advantage of the same high quality healthcare enjoyed by our European neighbours.”

He said each hospital was “hand-picked” by Passport2Health's expert team for its exemplary clinical standards, as well as English language capabilities, service quality and patient comfort.

Abount 60,000 people are thought to travel abroad from the UK for treatment as “medical tourism” has grown as an industry.

While the NHS remains the choice for emergency and urgent surgery, treatments such as angioplasty, hernias, hip replacements or cataracts can now be treated overseas without the patient having to join a long waiting list.