NHS Abroad – should we offer our expertise globally?

August 21, 2012 by
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NHS hospitals could soon be popping up all over – where ever there is a rich man’s playground.  Skiing-under-the-influence injury in Gstaad? Beach volleyball neck in Dubai? Surfeit of caviar in Moscow?  Nose Job in Nassau?

Reports today suggest cash rich patients could soon be benefiting from the NHS’s immense depth of knowledge and wide range of skills globally in hospitals set up and run from here.

Fans say the NHS will benefit from a strong income stream; enhanced global recognition; the chance to attract even more top talent into our academic system and into our national hospitals.

Andrew Hine, UK head of healthcare at KPMG, has commented: ‘We should be proud of the international interest in our National Health Service and welcome the opportunity to showcase our capabilities on the international stage. Not only does it afford the NHS a chance to develop a sustainable revenue stream; it will allow one of the world’s largest employers to attract and retain top talent by offering global career opportunities.’

David Stout, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, has said it is   “absolutely right” to charge for NHS services abroad and bring back the  profit to help improve patient care in Britain.  “I don’t think this is distorting what we offer UK citizens,  this is about exploiting the brand internationally.”

Detractors warn that staff who currently work for less money than they would in a private system will resent the goodwill expected of them in such a nakedly capitalist move.

Stout admits any profits would be “marginal” in the scheme of the NHS’s £100 billion budget but says the health service should do everything it can to “help UK Plc”.

Two issues concern me: firstly – I don’t think we could attract any better talent than we do already – the NHS global brand is about as shining as you could want. (cf that Olympic 2012 Opening Ceremony…)

And so our medical schools already teem with the brightest and the best of national and international students. While I wouldn’t begrudge the universities the income that foreign students bring in, I don’t want to see any more five-As-at-A British pupils missing out on a place at dental or medical school. Nor do I want them to be trained here and then lose the chance of working for the NHS as medical jobs contract (an ongoing problem).

Moreover, we are struggling – let’s be frank – to keep the NHS together as we know it – partly due to its immense size . Critics already call it unwieldy – part of the rationale behind breaking up SHAs and devolving power down to GPS (localism in medicine). Who on earth (literally) thought making it bigger – geographically – was a smart idea? What a recipe for chaos.

But I can understand in the modern world of the brand, why civil servants might think it smart to exploit the third greatest British brand (after the Royal family, and British Airways). If we are to develop the private side of NHS care – which is long standing; think of private maternity wards, which really don’t make public maternity wards any worse – how about taking on some of the private hospital chains here?

Turn NHS Private into a publicly owned chain of healthcare clinics, and ruthlessly skim off profits to set back, ring-fenced, into public healthcare. That would automatically incentivise the staff. And buy a few scalpels.

Private facilities could be shared too – like playing fields between private and public schools to ensure maximum use.

And then we can attract the mega rich to be operated on here – fly ’em in on BA, throw in a post-op tour of Buck House. Our economy benefits. Our healthcare creams off the profit. Our NHS brand stays ours.

But growing the NHS into a bigger property – literally – when we can’t cope at the current size. That’s Casino Healthcare.  And in the worst case scenario, a failed foreign hospital might have to be paid for with home funds. Unthinkable. Or is it?

About the Author

Victoria Lambert has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and specialises in health and medical matters. She writes for the Telegraph, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Mail and the Mail on Sunday. She contributes to Saga, Geographical and First Eleven magazines – where she is the agony aunt.

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