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 624.


    'The BBC...generate income by setting up BBC Worldwide. ... providing services abroad whose fees benefit the UK health service not be the best form of reciprocation?'
    BBC world service is unilateral and cannot be tailored for individual countries, providing international health service is some thing else. So bad comparison. Providing health training service could work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    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?

    1. What do you mean "if" they make a loss, and
    2. bail them out? who do you think?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    Typical Tory attitude - if the cow has milk then milk it and when it runs dry send it to the knackers yard. The end of the sacred cow and it's supporters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    you are all free to make up your minds on the merits of this scheme,all i will say is this-only tories use in there eulogy of it the phrase "it's not about distorting the NHS',it's about how to exploit it"in that you see there process of thought&approach to healthcare of ordinary people,the axiom ,of knowing the price of everything the value of nothing as to be used when the NHS is in tory hands

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    613. SpacePirateFTW
    I'd rather they spent time/money on the care here, e.g. 1p on a pen...

    Except in government procurement that pen probably costs £50 of tax payer money (claims of exaggeration accepted).

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    604 Rosetta
    Bailing out banks & the NHS both Govt spending/programs - linked. How does this happen when taxes can’t cover it? Westminster borrows. From where? The Bank of Eng, or from banks who are bailed out by the B&E. Q&E is just printing money which, debases our currency and forces the cost of living up, including Healthcare. It makes it even worse!
    How is the NHS not a Ponzi scheme?

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    But the levels of Tax Theft have reached Confiscation. The Socialist systems are sucking tax into them like black-holes.. The Tax payers are just about keeping their heads above water
    So how are you going to fund them ? push the tax payer under-the-water ? so the NHS can offer a sex change operations while a tax payers family starves ? outrageous !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    The goverment need to sort out the NHS in this country before expanding abroad. My 88 year old mother waited 4 hours for an ambulance, then a further 6 hours to see a doctor once she arrived at the hospital. Doctors on GPU wards go home a midnight then you have to wait for a doctor to become available from A & E to be seen. Does anybody know how long Prince Phillip waited for his ambulance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    The BBC, a public sector organisation, funded by the UK TV license payer managed to generate income by setting up BBC Worldwide. Could this model work for the NHS?

    Also, the NHS employs healthcare professionals that have come from overseas, so would providing services abroad whose fees benefit the UK health service not be the best form of reciprocation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    We're blessed in this country to have a general principle that anyone suffering from ill-health or accident can get treatment free or at a modest cost (thought the prescription charge is getting iffy). Running the NHS for profit is diametrically opposite to this principle.

    Have the tories with their £millions and private medical arrangements no shame, no thought fot the less fortunate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    I believe that it should be run as an independant franchise with the profits being use for the benefit of the NHS. Losses would be contained within the franchise and not effect the main hospital budget. Franchise fee would supply immeadiate funds and a licence fee to use the name revenue. Medical expertses could be supplied over the internet as well as training in person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    I'd rather they spent time/money on the care here, e.g. 1p on a pen so they can note down I'm allergic to latex instead of trying to stick latex bandages on me all the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    The NHS is one of the most efficient in the world, on both cost and outcomes

    It has been, but with increasing demands, an ageing population & more expensive medicines being expected by the public it cannot sustain itself in it's current form. The Tories have simply endorsed a Labour policy to export healthcare, (eg Moorfields Eye hospital in Dubai) as it's one thing we're good at!

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    Most public sector organizations are poorly managed inefficient and wasteful, if they were all top class there wouldn’t be an argument for privatization. Taxpayers want value for money, not a money pit without a bottom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    no one would buy NhS since it is so cost infective and bloat bureaucracy.
    if the NHS was ever privatized 150,000 staff would lose there jobs. just to get rid of useless bloat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    @588 Sixp. I don’t pay a Govt car insurance scheme and my countrymen have affordable cars. I don’t pay a shoe insurance scheme and my countrymen have affordable quality shoes. If you think so low of your fellow countryman to not donate to charity should the need arise, what makes you think those in Westminster are of a better ilk?

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    I think people are wrong to throw this idea without consideration. The NHS is fantastic but increased life span and complex technology are forever increasing it's cost base. Either it becomes more efficient, takes a larger slice of the taxes or finds other income streams. I see no problem in the NHS offering consultancy to other countries on how to run an excellent healthcare for themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    As with all exports, funding as well as need must be identified. So, health care to oil producing countries? Most of these already have brilliant health provisions; those that do not are mainly in the grip of political turmoil - not the sort of place to do business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    I honestly can't see what is so controversial about this, ok looking at it from a purely UK centric position, the NHS is not self sustaining, that means there will come a time when the costs will become unaffordable, so why then shouldn't the government try and relieve some pressure of it.

    I'd much rather the government be selling healthcare abroad than weapons

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    James 376; check the facts - I believe this was set up by the last Labour Government. Andy Burnham?


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