Isn’t it about time the Government learnt from Europe, and saw why their post cancer survival rates are better ?

They could start with the country of La Dolce Vita, which has surprisingly sophisticated medical treatments.

Before the election, David Cameron was using Europe’s better post-cancer survival statistics as an electioneering platform.

Now, whenever Andrew Lansley gets up to talk he repeats the same mantra. One of these days I shall stand up and ask, “well why don’t you go and see what is being done in Europe ?”

If Italy can provide the most effective and efficient post cancer treatment, in delightful surroundings, it seems incredible we don’t send doctors and physios to copy.

I have just returned from Petriolo Spa Resort, near Sienna, where i went to get a medical MOT, and in particular do something about my skin.

Osteoporosis had hit in the past year, and as a result my medics have put me on the most horrible tablets which wreak havoc with my skin – not to mention my appetite.

We had the greatest difficulty finding the spa, as the setting is so gorgeous we kept on driving past, imagining it was a five-star hotel. Eventually we drove in, and this really was the place. Once inside, we just couldn’t believe what is offered to people who want medical treatment – this is state-of -the art cutting technology, combined with a gracious Italian way of medical care.

As with all medical health spas in Italy, this is in the Government system, licenced by the Ministry of Health. The doctors one meets are ‘proper’ doctors, and incredibly enthusiastic about offering the best treatment possible for their patients. Shortly after you arrive, you have an appointment with a doctor, who advises you which of the many pools you can use.

‘My’ doctor was Dr. Elena Ceccarelli, an Endocrinologist. Very competently she took my medical history, then charmingly advised which thermal pools i could use ; but said the main one, fed by warm sulphur springs at a temperature of 42 º, was a no-no with my skin problems.

Then she said NO to the sauna as well, and i must remember to take her advice. But there were plenty of other pools to swim and jump around in.

The attention to detail was fantastic, and having been lulled by the luxury, one began to sense there was a serious purpose underlying all the treatments.

Medical Director

My first appointment with the Medical Director, Dr. Luigi Brocchi, was fascinating. He was in charge of the whole complex, and trained in Sienna as a surgeon. He then began to get very interested in his patients as a whole, and what happened to them once they had left his operating theatre.

Gradually turning to doctoring, as opposed to surgery, he is now noted for Angiology, which is the medical specialty studying diseases of circulatory system and of the lymphatic system, i.e., arteries, veins and lymphatic vases, and its diseases. We call this angiology, but in the States it is called Vascular medicine.

360º treatments

He may be in charge of a team offering the latest treatments, but his speciality is old-fashioned doctoring, or as he puts it, “providing 360º treatments”.

What is the form ?

Your doctor can refer you to Dr. Brocchi, or you can self-refer and book yourself in. In Europe they assume we are gown-up enough to know what we need, and the Choose and Book’ system would send Italians off screaming.

When i asked Andy Burnham (Minister of Health in the last Government), what he would like to adopt from European system of healthcare, he had no hesitation in saying “get rid of doctor’s referral letters”.

If you want to spend your money on a treatment that might be superfluous that is up to you. But 99% of patients know what they want, and doctors and hospitals in Europe give it to them without a fuss.

If you self-refer, remember to bring all your relevant letters and forms for the doctor who admits you. Visitors who come for treatment are examined by a doctor, before they are allowed into these thermal waters – and even friends and family who come with them are encouraged to see the doctor. “After all, it’s free”, they are told with a charming smile.

I was examined by Dr. Elena Ceccarelli, an Endocrinoligist, who knew all about dry skin and side effects from drugs. She surprised me by saying i mustn’t go in the two hot pools – at 43º they would dry out my skin, etc. Neither should i use the Sauna – again bad for my skin, and something to remember for the future. But this didn’t worry me, as there were two other large pools i could use, plus lots of smaller ‘fun’ pools, each exercising a different part of the body.

The hot thermal waters contain Sulphuretted-saline-sulphate-bicarbonate-alkaline-terrene water, so there is a slight whiff of sulphur as you pass by, but six feet away you can’t smell anything. However, on our way to the Spa we had passed the Farna River, where people were bathing in the thermal waters where the Romans and the Pope had been before them, and the whiff of sulphur hit you as you drove past. As i was shown around by Barbara Scorza, i asked why their pools only had a minute amount of sulphur smell. She said this was because they pumped the waters up 1000 feet higher than the river, which dispersed most of the smell. So all the benefits of sulphur, without the smell ! Clever.

What does Petriolo treat ?

It might be better to ask for a list of what it doesn’t treat – but here is an outline :

  • Acute articular rheumatisms
  • After effects of psoriasitic
  • After-effects of disk, hernia, euritis and polyneuritis
  • Cardiac vascular diseases
  • Diseases of the respiratory system
  • Gynaecological ailments
  • Osteoarthrosis
  • Pagets and duputren’s disease
  • Rhinitis
  • Sequelae of fractures and sprains
  • Sinusitis
  • Skin disease (acne, seborrhoea, chronic eczemas erythema, psoriasis, pityriasis, tooth-rash, sycosis, cellulitis)
  • Spondylarthrosis of the vertebrae
  • and of course the problems I had come with after cancer – there is a fuller list on the website

Rooms, Food and other essentials

English-speaking staff welcomed me by name as i came through the door, and I was shown to a room with breathtaking views across wild Tuscan hillside inhabited by wild boar and porcupines.

The room was an incredible show-case for beautiful Tuscan craftsmanship. The floors were inlaid marble as was the bathroom, and I relished the luxury. It sounds OTT – but in Italy it is par for the course ! As i unpacked, i found the coat hangers were ‘proper’ ones – not those horrid thief-proof ones most hotels give you today (you try reaching up to click them in place when you are only just over five foot !).

I could have stayed leaning over the balcony for hours – but pools, gym with fun machines, and even a walk in the forest beckoned ; if you want to go walking the boars and porcupines keep well away from humans, but you might find porcupine quills.

So it was off for my first treatment for dry skin, then a blissful time where i meant to try out all the pools – but just stuck to the big one and floated up and down.

The Spa Team

“Sineidos” is a Greek word dear to the Medical Director, Dr. Brocchi. It means “being aware”, and has lent its name to Petriolo Spa Resort’s L’Accademia di Sineidologia, that takes shape in the Well-Being Studio. Based here is a group of medical professionals, well-being specialists, personal trainers, nutritionists, cosmetologists and chefs, who create and perform selected treatments, combinations of classical and alternative medicine, preparations of fresh biocosmesis, energy dieting and a lot more besides.

The team also treats Nutrition and Diet, Osteopathy and Posturology, Physiokinesitherapy, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, food intolerance testing, Reumatology, Traditional Thai Massage, etc. etc.

And if you want to wander off into the Tuscan hills, this is the perfect location to explore arts, history, food and the wines in Siena, San Galgano, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Castiglion della Pescaia, Argentario, etc.

Gourmet Food

That evening I was exhausted – doing nothing except having a nice friendly medical ‘chat’, having a specialised massage and trying out the swimming pools makes one tired !

So I decided on a simple chicken dish for dinner; the rest of the group decided on fish.. But what dishes ! Pasquale D’Ambrosio, the Executive Chef, has a strong following, and this meal showed why. It was the most fantastic gourmet meal – showing how a good chef can transform the most simple ingredients into a superb meal.

Massage

obviously plays a big part in treatments, and I was given ones tailored to my skin problems. A combination of deep, warm thermal mud and various oils massaged in with superb skill restored my skin so well, that one month after my treatments my skin is still smooth. There are no rough patches, and if I miss a ‘creaming’ it doesn’t matter – long may this last ! So the MOT produced excellent results, and I will be returning for more treatment (if only we had this on the NHS !)

It might also be due to a trial bottle of special skin oils being developed by Dr. Brocchi. He gave me a sample, which seems to work extremely well; and as soon as the range is on the market I will be writing more.

Dr. Brocchi had also taken note of my other ‘aches and pains’, and made sure that the exercise classes and other treatments were tailored to my recovery. Even having a facial, the therapists are well-trained and ensure that you skin is treated to mitigate the effects of drugs. There were other treatments some of us tried out – I will be writing about these on another posting.

Polio and problems with balance

My ‘consultation’ ranged over so many topics, and i happened to mention i had had polio. Immediately Brocchi picked this up, and asked if I had been tested on a Pedana Stabilometrica machine ? Seeing my bemused look, he picked up the phone and told Elisabetta Urgelli, their Gym Manager (and Certified Fitness Instructor) to take me under her wing.

I spent over an hour ‘playing’ with this machine ; there aren’t many around, principally because they cost around £40,000 each. But to anyone who has problems with stability, this gives incredibly complex and accurate measurements to enable physios to target which muscles need exercising.