Government suggests service could learn from the lucrative success of US firms which have established themselves abroad
Hospitals are to be encouraged by the government to sell their services abroad, setting up clinics with the famous NHS brand to pull in much-needed cash for the health service from overseas.
The scheme – which has been put together by the Department of Health (DH) and the UK Trade and Investment department (UKTI) – attracted immediate criticism from the Patients Association, concerned that in times of financial stringency at home, establishing overseas clinics would be a distraction too far and could undermine standards at home.
But the government points to clinics that already exist, run by big-name NHS trusts with a reputation around the world, such as Moorfields Eye Hospital and Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in the Middle East. The government thinks there could be lucrative possibilities for NHS-standard healthcare services in growing markets such as India and China.
It also points to work that has already been undertaken in Libya by an NHS ambulance trust, which is helping to set up emergency services, while Virgin healthcare, with NHS GPs, is in discussions with Abu Dhabi about the provision of primary healthcare services.
UKTI and the DH think that the NHS could learn from the success of some of the major American brands, such as the private Mayo clinics and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, which have established themselves abroad.
The health minister Anne Milton said the NHS would benefit and not suffer from the diversification.
“This is good news for NHS patients, who will get better services at their local hospital as a result of the work the NHS is doing abroad and the extra investment that will generate,” she said.
“This is also good news for the economy, which will benefit from the extra jobs and revenue created by our highly successful life sciences industries as they trade more across the globe.
“The NHS has a world class reputation and this exciting development will make the most of that to deliver real benefits for both patients and taxpayers.”
But critics of the healthcare reforms, already alarmed at the increased opportunity for private companies to take over parts of the NHS, are unlikely to feel comfortable about NHS hospitals drumming up private custom overseas.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, told the Independent: “The guiding principle of the NHS must be to ensure that outcomes and care for patients comes before profits.
“At a time of huge upheaval in the health service, when waiting times are rising and trusts are being asked to make £20 billion of efficiency savings, this is another concerning distraction. The priority of the government, hospital trusts and clinicians should be NHS patients.”
The DH said there would be very careful oversight of any clinics set up by the NHS in other countries by a board newly constituted by the DH and UKTI called Healthcare UK. “Any activity proposed by NHS Trusts will be overseen by Healthcare UK,” said a spokesman, insisting that standards of healthcare at home would not be compromised. The board is said to be recruiting a managing director at a salary of £100,000 to encourage NHS Trusts to move into the foreign market.