Britain is urging major hospitals in its National Health Service (NHS) to look beyond the country’s borders in the quest for profit and offer foreign governments access to U.K. health services. The move is gathering steam just as the government posted a surprise budget deficit thanks to a fall in tax receipts.
The BBC reported Tuesday that the Department of Health and U.K. Trade and Investment intends to launch the move, begun under the Labour government, this autumn. High-profile hospitals such as the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (famous for its ties to the late Sir James Barrie and Peter Pan) would use profits from private patients, who pay for care, to finance operations abroad in the hope of a return that could then be used to boost the NHS.
While Britain’s “ordinary” hospitals are not expected to take part, Great Ormond Street is just one of the high-profile facilities that would be encouraged to set up elsewhere to provide access to British-run health care. Other prominent hospitals such as Royal Marsden, Guy’s and St Thomas’ are also targets of the initiative.
Moorfields Eye Hospital in London has already built a facility in Dubai that opened in 2007; operating under the same name as its London parent, it generates 500,000 pounds ($788,050) per year for London.
According to Moorfields medical director Chris Canning, no taxpayer money was spent on the Dubai facility, which has been profitable for the last three years, bringing in funds to put back into U.K. health care and at the same time “raising the reputation and profile” of the NHS and the hospital. Great Ormond Street also already offers services in Dubai.
Labour Health Secretary Andy Burnham set up NHS Global in 2010, with the goal of offering NHS care on the global market to help raise funds for NHS operations domestically. A source connected with the current health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said that foreign investments by U.K. hospitals could only be financed by funds from private U.K. patients, and profits made abroad would be returned to the U.K. to support NHS.
The move is being touted by Health Minister Anne Milton as “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.”
Milton also said it was “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.”
Britain’s Patients Association is not impressed by the venture. Michael Watson of the group was quoted saying, “The key and only focus of an NHS hospital should be to provide treatment to patients on the NHS.”