The first online medical facilitator course for UK travel agents is to be promoted by Online Travel Training and the Medical Tourism Association.

Training is set to start in January after it was agreed to create the Certified Medical Tourism Professional (CMTP) certification programme for the UK travel trade,

The Certified Medical Tourism Professional (CMTP) and Certified Medical Tourism Specialist (CMTS) are professional certifications within the medical tourism field, provided by the Medical Tourism Association. Each certification is valid for three years.

The certificates are designed to help agents build a successful business in the medical tourism industry, mitigate risks which are unique to the industry and select qualified healthcare facilities and providers.

Participating agents can educate themselves on the quality, transparency, legal and privacy issues surrounding health and wellness travel.

An unspecified “nominal cost” will be charged to take the course, with discounts for agency groups and consortia.

Medical Tourism is already a multi-billion-dollar industry which is predicted to rise by up to 25% a year within the next decade, according to a study by Visa-Oxford Economics.

The UK has both a significant inbound and outbound medical tourism market. Outbound patients are usually seeking lower cost treatments – cosmetic, dental, eyes, hip, knees, IVF – which are either not available to them on the National Health Service or are unavailable quickly.

A total of 144,000 people travelled abroad for medical purposes in 2016 – a rapid increase from 48,000 two years earlier.

Central Europe is popular for dentistry and cosmetic surgery while France and Switzerland are being more frequently visited for hip and knee operations. Spain is a popular destination for couples seeking fertility treatment.

The top destinations for medical tourism include Thailand, India, Mexico, South Korea and Malaysia.

MTA spokeswoman Alison Cryer said: “For a travel agent to become a medical travel facilitator it is important to understand the patient’s journey; from identifying the need for medical care to recovery and returning home.

“It is important that the travel agent is aware of the regulations and responsibilities they are taking on and how best to handle them.

“Medical tourism has vast potential but must be handled in the best possible way for the patient. By providing certification to the travel trade, MTA aims to ensure that the travel trade can benefit from this growth sector professionally and by observing best practice and the patient can go to one facilitator for all aspects of their journey.”

OTT managing director Julia Feuell added: “This is an exciting new business stream for travel agencies to embrace in 2019 and we’re looking forward to supporting this specialist sector with training, seminars and announcements to our 101,000 UK members.’”