They have printed English menus at the luxurious Park-Klinik Weissensee and the nurses have embarked on a language course, but the Britons this east Berlin hospital is hoping to entice are stranded by a row over joints.

As the first three of what is expected to be a wave of English patients flew into Düsseldorf on Friday, the countries were at loggerheads over surgical implants. Britain has decreed that only British artificial knee joints are fit for Englishmen. Local surgeons, however, swear by German technology.

The clinic, set by a lake among turn-of-the century tenement blocks in a pleasant district of the former East German capital, is gearing up for business that could fill its empty beds. "We can probably squeeze in about 200 English patients every year," says Brigitta Hennig, the hospital's deputy director. There are beds aplenty in Germany, and medical treatment for sale to all comers at prices the Germans say are competitive with British private hospitals. The current incarnation of the Weissensee clinic, which looks more like a four-star convention centre than a hospital, opened in 1997.

The facilities are state of the art. Mrs Hennig – who was doing the same job in communist times, in the clinic's dilapidated and now demolished predecessor – looks embarrassed when asked if her patients have access to a Jacuzzi. Not yet, but the 350-bed hospital boasts a swimming pool, a sauna and a gym. Massage can also be arranged.

"It's like a hotel," says patient Anna Bludauer. "I'm able to get some decent sleep and a good meal." This is her second time at Weissensee, and she will definitely recommend it to her friends.

Germans can pick and choose among hospitals – the concept of "waiting lists" is incomprehensible to them – but their country's indulgent health service is expensive and can be wasteful. Up to 20 per cent of hospital beds are empty at any one time.

It does not take a genius to resolve the equation. Britain has 70,000 patients who have waited for up to 18 months for an operation. Germany has at least 110 top-notch clinics with spare beds. Ergo...

Some 300 Norwegians have already had their worn body parts serviced by German surgeons under a pioneering deal. The larger and more lucrative British market, though, is proving harder to crack.

"German surgeons naturally want to use materials they know," says Uta Buchmann, the hospital's sales director. "But the British doctors insist on British products."

For the duration of the two-month pilot project, a compromise has emerged. "We have agreed the surgeons can use German implants, provided that they are of international standard and available in Britain," says Axel Hollander, head of GerMedic, the company arranging the visits. But the final decision rests with the hospitals.

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