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 64.

    There are enough conflicts of interest in the provision of health services. We do not need anymore. I can envisage a debate at a future NHS Trust meeting over funding for a much needed local service where an accountant wants the funding to go “abroad” where it would make money for the Trust

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    All on a par with MP's now claiming that they're SELF EMPLOYED.
    Now we know why they do nothing for us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Genius idea as long as all the staff used for this are those nhs staff, and i include certain consultants I have come across, who have a minimal grasp of the english language. At a stroke this would improve the nhs

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    So who staffs this enterprise - NHS doctors? Stretching our limited resources even further. Great idea!

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    With so many patients dying in the NHS due to poor standards of medical care I doubt very much if the brand would succeed outside of these blinkered shores.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I understand peoples aversion to the word 'profit' in anything to do with health but tbh I would rather have health provided by a well-run company than by bugling corrupt politicians

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Typical Etonian suggestion.
    Brilliant theory over cocktails in the club.In reality the NHS hospital abroad would lose a fortune and be bailed out by British taxpayers.
    Put some in monte carlo and the rest in the south of France for when our suggester falls ill ,he can pop into the local NHS hospital,it will save him getting his plane to bring him home.
    I like it......NOT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I'm sorry, but is this actually a system being designed on the premise of making money from sick/ill/dying people?
    Well at least they'll be foreign. :@

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Unused wards could become brothels, nurses could supplement their wages and any tax earned could go to the hospital trust fund. Likewise, between emergency call outs, ambulances could earn some useful extra cash by moonlighting as mini cabs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    If the money from overseas activity was really going to g back into the NHS then this wouldn't be such a bad idea ,but does anyone believe that this shambles of a government will make any g attempt to reclaim any profits from their private health providing chums?

    It is the Tory agenda to make poor people poorer in terms of health , accommodation and income, while cutting the tax of millionaires

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    "41.penguin337 Just now

    NHS hospital trusts invited to expand abroad

    Who pays for this? The Government?"

    The Trust are going to have to pay for it through an increase in private patients over NHS patients so in fact WE are the ones who will pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    As clear proof as anyone needed that the Tory party is actually stark raving bonkers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    this makes sense for a privatised nhs, universities already use this approach & have done for years. Having accepted the privatisation of the nhs its no use being surprised when it starts to do things that businesses of this type do

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    UK govt spends more on UK NHS than list as long as your arm as some countries entire GDP.
    If UK govt wants to save on huge cost of UK NHS why not manage demand by restricting access to those who are legally entitled to treatment as British citzens and stop giving away UK passports and NI no's like they're tissue paper?

    Is all foreignising that takes focus away from standard of care in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    When is the next general election? These tory toffs just don't understand the concept of the NHS and it's there to help people and not make money.

    Then again i womder how many tories are actually NHS registered or go to swiss health clinics.

    If it doesn't make money, Tories get confused and dazed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    We have some of the best if not the best healthcare in the world, I don't see why selling services abroad is a bad thing? The UK is used to selling off everything to foreign companies/governments so why can't it be the other way round for once, where we export a service we are good at for profit. And AceFace, USA healthcare is appauling, yet it's a rich country.. hmm

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The hospitals abroad will attract the best staff. They will also be better equiped than hospitals in the UK. The richest in the UK, who, after succesfully avoiding tax, will be able to afford the NHS abroad. As for the rest of us, well we're on the lower tiers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Many Labour supporters on here seem to be forgetting which party originally introduced the idea. I suggest you read the article for clues!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

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

    So it's only a good idea if it's our idea... another bewildering political statement.

    I think they should publish more information about the NHS and Dubai before going anywhere near this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The hospitals could sell their morphine to drug addcits too,and turn a tidy profit.


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