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 604.

    593.Andrew K
    ‘Govt has to borrow & print money (quantative easing) to fund these leviathans of welfare programs.’
    Where have you been for the last 5 years? QE was for the banking crisis, not the NHS and as for benefits, that too is about the banks and the $500bl in derivatives costing peoples jobs. THIS IS A PONZI SCHEME.

    But don’t take my word for it; just check the facts for yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    Bad idea!! Here in the USA we've been there and done that - and it ain't working.

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    Many NHS hospitals have offer private health care for many years and many have private hospitals on their sites. I do not see this as ground breaking. In the 70's UCH had a private wing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    A very expensive and inefficient healthcare system that could be superb & efficient if Unions and others more interested in politics didn't scaremonger the simple folk into the terrors that lie behind change..."

    The NHS is, by international comparison, one of the most efficient in the world, on both cost and outcomes. That being the case, unions are ether good, or make no odds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    Camshafted...yet again

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    You can but I'm not going to join the TUC in another march. The likes of Bob Crow sicken me as much as the Tories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    How's moving abroad for profit going to work when abroad moves here and gets it free anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    My wife has just received a hospital appointment notification that she has already been waiting 2 months for and it is for the middle of October and this was supposed to be an urgent appointment so if these plans were carried out how long would we have to wait then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    You only need to look at privatised companies in the past to see that this is a very bad idea. As soon as private companies get their hands on such companies focus is taken away from the service they provide and attention is paid to how much money can be squeezed from them. Consequentially corners are cut, costs are cut, books are fiddled and taxes are avoided and people are the last in line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    We need to destroy the power this government thinks it can misuse and we need to do it soon. Can I suggest everyone out to play October 20th 2012?

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    >Once you get the accountants and financiers running the show, the core >service becomes secondary to revenue streams, balance sheets and >business opportunities.

    They're already in the NHS. They look at profits from operations instead of the overall outcome. Hence NHS organisations need to look at the overall outcome and benefit of the treatment rather than the profit per procedure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    @576.Rosetta, it's a classic Ponzi scheme. NHS is funded by taxpayers in the future. Govt has to borrow & print money (quantative easing) to fund these leviathans of welfare programs. These debts are paid off generations into the future, our children are born into this debt to pay for our borrowing today. The generational inequity is grotesque.

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    So the profits will go to fund NHS care in Britain. Fine. But what happens if these foreign ventures make a loss? Who will bail them out then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    the problem is not enough people pay enough tax to support the services they want in the NHS.
    the only fair way is to make people who don't pay tax be billed for NHS services that means the poor,the jobless, the tourist, illegal alien and any one else that does no pay enough tax to cover there fair share.

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    Grumpy @571
    What to vote?

    For healthcare access, even if over-pressured, at times uncaring?

    Or for general context of civilisation, belonging and caring?

    I confess, I really though Dave might reincarnate Disraeli, for One Nation

    And I had thought Tony merely vacuous

    Of Nick, least said

    Time for Caroline Lucas?

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    'Great' ideas from the GB PLC FINK tank ...

    Dave : Hey ! I've just had great idea for a new form of revenue which would touch us the least ... We could call it ... 'The Poll Tax' !
    George : Nah... It'd be called racist these days !

    Not really too funny, are they ?
    Making cash from people's misery ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    560.Andrew K
    @549 Sixp. Wow, I've heard some bad men say that through history!
    As for opt in opt out. I agree with Nemesis.
    A bit rich coming from someone who advocates a scheme which would result in millions of their countrymen having no health cover.

    But hey, you'd have a few more quid to spend on yourself so who cares about some 'collateral damage'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    Time for people of the UK to create another Service to replace the NHS a None for Profit organization the Red Cross should be a starting point.
    No tax to be handed to the NHS as it now belongs to the Government to sell of for profit abroad.
    Can it be done only in my dreams.

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.


    What exactly have, since their time in power, the Tory party contributed to UK society?

    Name one decent Tory policy.

    In the words of their CULT leader Thatcher "there is no such thing as society"

    The Tories only economic policy is to sell everything that isn't nailed down and then to pass the buck when it goes pear shaped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    NHS can't even serve the existing UK population (having long lists of patients to wait for months), let alone serving patients from other countries!
    This is a typical Tory approach on public services - they always focus on things in monetary terms rather than quality terms. They have already sold many UK assets and privatized services, so I fear that they may put the whole country for sale soon.


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