Certain hospitals in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) are reportedly going to be encouraged by the government to consider setting up profit-making facilities abroad in order to try and boost funds for the overstretched national service. Well-known hospitals such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Royal Marsden and Guy’s and St Thomas’ – all in London – could be following in the steps of the Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, which in 2007 built a facility in Dubai.
The idea for the scheme was first dreamt up by former Labour government Health Secretary Andy Burnham, who set up NHS Global to assist the state’s health system to capitalise on the international healthcare market; but the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government, with new Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, would like to see the scheme taken further. A source, who was described by the BBC as being ‘close’ to Lansley, said hospitals that take part in the scheme would pay for the overseas investment through revenue generated via the treatment of private patients, and once the overseas hospital starts making a profit, this money would then be channelled back to the UK’s NHS.
Anne Milton, Health Minister, said of the plan: “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.” Chris Canning, medical director of Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, told the BBC that no taxpayer money would be used for investment purposes, and was keen to emphasise that the Dubai branch of his hospital had made a profit for the past three years.
The scheme is not popular with the UK’s Patients Association, however, which issued a statement saying: “The key and only focus on 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, [that] 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 focussed on these hospitals abroad.”
The new drive to encourage world-renowned UK hospital trusts to set up sister facilities abroad is due to be launched by the Department of Health and quango UK Trade and Investment this autumn. Officials from the two entities will work together to act as a facilitating agency between hospitals that wish to expand overseas and foreign governments with a demand for British health services.