NHS hospital trusts invited to expand abroad

NHS staff taking part in the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony NHS staff from Great Ormond Street Hospital took part in the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony

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High-profile NHS hospitals in England are to be encouraged by the government to set up profit-making branches abroad to help fund services in the UK.

An agency will aim to link hospitals such as Great Ormond Street with foreign governments that want access to British-run health services.

Investment would have to be drawn from hospitals' private UK work, but with profits ploughed back into the NHS.

A patients' group said the move was a "distraction" at a time of "upheaval".

The drive, building on an initiative first started under the Labour government, is set to be launched by the Department of Health and UK Trade and Investment this autumn.

The BBC understands the initiative is unlikely to involve regular district or general hospitals but would target world-renowned hospitals like the Royal Marsden, Great Ormond Street and Guy's and St Thomas'.

Start Quote

This is not about distorting what the NHS offers to UK citizens, this is about how we can exploit the brand of the NHS internationally”

End Quote David Stout Deputy chief executive, NHS Confederation
'Benefit patients'

It would mirror schemes such as that of Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, which in 2007 built a unit of the same name in Dubai. Children's hospital Great Ormond Street also has interests abroad.

In 2010, Labour's Health Secretary Andy Burnham set up NHS Global to help the health service make the most of the global market for healthcare and the coalition now wants to build on this.

A source close to current Health Secretary Andrew Lansley emphasised that hospitals would be able to pay for their investments abroad using only revenue generated from their private patients in the UK.

How it works

  • Healthcare UK will link up British hospitals wishing to expand overseas with foreign clients who want the new services
  • This could include everything from setting up and running new hospitals to advising on aspects of healthcare
  • Funding for such ventures would come from private investment, not NHS cash, and any profits would be used for UK services
  • London's Moorfields Eye Hospital already runs an outpost in Dubai which generates a return for its UK site of £500,000 a year
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital makes a profit from providing training, education and support in the Gulf region
  • But experts say these profits are a drop in the ocean compared to the £100bn annual running cost of the NHS
  • And only a handful of the UK's hundreds of hospitals would be in a position to start offering services abroad
  • Some argue problems at home, such as the scandal at Mid Staffordshire over "appalling standards of care", could damage the NHS brand

Any profits made overseas would be ploughed back into the health service and so benefit NHS patients, the source added.

The Health and Social Care Act, which was passed by Parliament earlier this year, eased the way for hospital trusts to expand their work in the private sector.

Health Minister Anne Milton said: "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.

"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."

Moorfields medical director Chris Canning said no taxpayers' money had been spent on its Dubai venture and it had been in profit for the past three years while "raising the reputation and profile" of the NHS and the hospital, and making money to reinvest in UK health services.

David Stout, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations around England, denied the scheme would divert attention away from health services and said an international exchange of ideas could in fact improve local services.

"This is not about distorting what the NHS offers to UK citizens, this is about how we can exploit the brand of the NHS internationally," he told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

When asked if the NHS could end up under-funded by taxation because of increasing funds raised abroad, he said: "We are not talking about completely skewing the way the health service funding comes in - this will be marginal in the scheme of a £100bn organisation organisation in the NHS."

'Rampant commercialisation'

However, the move was criticised by the Patients Association.

"The key and only focus of an NHS hospital should be to provide treatment to patients on the NHS. We would be very concerned by any moves which would see commercial ventures, which are naturally going to be important for hospitals because they need to use them to raise revenue, would simply result in the attention of the hospitals being taken away from the core purpose - to treat patients in the UK and instead be focused on these hospitals abroad," said Michael Watson, of the group.

Andy Burnham, Labour: "The government's plan fundamentally alters the character of the NHS"

Labour began the initiative while in government, but shadow health minister Jamie Reed criticised the coalition's plans.

He said: "At a time when staff are losing their jobs and waiting times are rising, the government's priority should be sorting out the mess it has created in our NHS.

"Under David Cameron we're seeing a rampant commercialisation of the NHS. He needs to get a grip and start focusing on patients, not profits."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    Surely the NHS is here for healthcare in the UK. It needs to try to balance its books but is not a commercial organisation which should "expand" overseas. Cameron & Co are deluded - did Cameron once say the NHS was safe with him!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 863.

    how about this simple solution the nhs cut cost and gets rid of dead weight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    I'm not comfortable with ripping people off abroad to fund our own health care. There is more than enough money in the UK to pay for our wonderful NHS if everyone, including cabinet ministers, paid their fair share of taxes. Why should we rip off foreigners, many of whom are in the same position as ourselves, instead of sorting out our own tax dodgers ?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 861.

    Once these specialist centers are opened abroad, why should the cash flow back to UK?
    It will also probably be taxed (wages too) in the foreign country.

    If such business is successful, why use the NHS moniker at all?
    Simply go 100% Private and say stuff the NHS.

    Nice pantomime at the Olympics Opening Ceremony, but it is highly likely these "Brandings" are similar to BT when it was "floated".

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.

    When a specialist centre provides parallel private and public services the reality is the private stream is piggybacking the investment & structure of the public stream. It is ingenious to suggest there is no taxpayer money in support of the private stream. It doesnt have to appear as figures on the ledger. It is in the public service which is piggybacked. The private stream profit is amplified

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    What’s wrong with this?

    NHS UK under threat, 60,000+ brave Military personnel are being fired, 16,000+ Police men & women already fired, the Fire service has been cut, local councils are skint, there’s no job’s, schools are suffering, and the rich poor gap is widening!

    How to fix it?

    Get rid of tax havens, companies must start to paying HMRC full taxes no more off shore operations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 858.


    Agreed. The only brand I favour is the one you heat up until cherry red and then apply to the respective rear ends of the idiots who came up with this latest scam to privatise part of the NHS and make a profit for their friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    dungolfin actually the NHS below to those who provide the money start it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    The NHS is not the property of the government to sell off to the highest bidder. It's ours, the British taxpayer. I don't want my taxes to be handed over to the banks, instead I want to see properly funded public services that benefit everyone. We've already seen our utilities flogged to private investment and its cost every man, woman and child dear. There is no place for profiteers in the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    the only people who deserve a job for life are those who make world better and start own companies.

  • Comment number 854.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    To put it bluntly to you all and so that I do not go on about this, but just because you have a UK passport, but you were born else where you should have to live and work here for 2 years before you automatically get NHS treatment for free. After all if Australia requires us to pay, amongst other countries then fair is fair, citizen or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    @ 850.Stephanni Snape
    Miss, My elder brother lives in Sydney, he is married Aussie and has a lovely baby daughter, I have other family members living there also, I have no right to an Aussie passport but they have a Right to a UK one, All but 2 of 16 were born in Australia, they visit here and can get all NHS treatment for free, I or you go there we must pay that’s not right!

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    @Lock Im Up
    were you not a child once?

  • Comment number 850.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    In 1998 the UK and Australia signed the reciprocal health care accord (RHCA), similar agreements with other county’s outside the EU, this basically mean's what you get in the devolved NHS zones; England, Wales, Scotland and NI, you should get there, But you DON’T you still have to pay for most Dr’s, & all Prescriptions etc

    Surly if we pay they pay?

    That would sure help the NHS coffers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    I really dont know what to think , we already treat half the world for free !! now we want to send our doctors abroad to work ? hang on dont half of them already speak a foreign language .

  • Comment number 847.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    @ 640 P Robers: Terribly wrong. EU citizens have the right to receive urgent treatment free of charge by presenting the European Health Insurance Card (as well as UK citizens going to mainland Europe). We have these cards here in the UK too and we have the right to be treated in other EU member states. If NHS fail to collect the money from the other contries' healthcare systems, it's another story

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    With a population of 60million the NHS does not need more patients. There is a big enough base to provide centres of excellence & specialisation. Whilst more focus and responsiveness to patients needs may well be helpful it is difficult to see how more demand on services is beneficial. The reality is in most sectors away from health a private objective has introduced as many problems as it solved


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