A group of patients who were among the first to be given treatment on the NHS in a foreign hospital arrived back in Britain yesterday.

Four patients arrived at Ashford International Railway Station in Kent at noon after being discharged from a clinic in Lille, northern France.

The four, who all underwent eye surgery to remove cataracts, were among nine who were sent for treatment in France to cut NHS waiting lists. Another five were sent across the Channel by Eurostar for joint replacement surgery and are expected to return to Britain in the next two weeks.

They were treated at La Louvière Polyclinique, a private hospital in Lille, which won glowing reports about its treatment and facilities – including private rooms with their own television and fridge.

A spokesman for the Channel Primary Care Group, which organised the trip, said all nine patients were recovering well.

The pilot scheme allows groups of patients or a "block booking" to go abroad for operations rather than have them in the UK. It follows a European Court of Justice ruling that patients facing undue delay for treatment in one EU country may seek it in another.

The nine patients, all from east Kent, are the first of about 200 who will go out between now and March. Another group is scheduled to leave on Friday.