Choice is only a reality when there is overcapacity. The idea that our specialists should earn revenue for their trusts by working abroad when they don’t have enough time and capacity to treat all our own citizens is perverse. Does this mean we are going to import more doctors – from countries who can least afford to lose them, and who have communication difficulties? The now Regional, formerly National, health service(s) are an example of socialism at it’s best, even though Mr Blair has reduced the size, and split the NHS Mutual. Despite all this, good business practice says “stick to the knitting” and don’t get distracted into non-core activities. We need the capacity which may go abroad – this is not a game. People are suffering from covert post code rationing, especially in rural areas such as Wales, without choice or capacity, and where recruitment is a severe problem. Does Howard Lyons think Wales is “abroad”? So much for the idea of a National Mutual…
Every NHS hospital must be doing business abroad within ten years, under targets set out by a government agency charged with selling the health service “brand” around the world.
A campaign will begin this month to convince hospital bosses that they could raise money through cancer treatment in the Middle East, lab tests in India or care for the elderly in China.
Howard Lyons, chief executive of Healthcare UK, said: “The opportunities out there are so enormous and the brand of the NHS is so strong overseas. Whatever we may think in the UK, people want to have the brand of the NHS, they want associations with NHS organisations because it shows quality of care, it shows access, it shows efficiency.”
In the past year, his agency has helped NHS hospitals and other public bodies to sign deals worth £273 million overseas, mainly to offer training to doctors and nurses. Contracts worth £4.6 billion could be available in future years, such as medical cities in China or setting up a GP system in India, Mr Lyons said.
He has recently been given an extra £400,000 by ministers to encourage NHS organisations to work abroad by persuading them that, as budgets are squeezed, they can help to raise extra funds overseas. “Over the next five years, I would like to see every NHS organisation involved in international work. Certainly over the next ten years I don’t see why every NHS organisation shouldn’t be doing international work of some kind,” he said.
“It’s a bit like income generation in the 1980s. In those days people used to buy their cup of coffee from the League of Friends or the Red Cross shop. Now it’s natural that you’ve got a Costa Coffee, a Starbucks, a shopping mall in every hospital in the land.”
Patient groups have attacked his plans, saying that hospitals should be concentrating on treating British patients. But Mr Lyons said that there was no reason for hospitals to be “furtive” about raising money overseas to spend on NHS patients.
The Government has raised caps on the amount of money hospitals can raise from treating private patients, and Mr Lyons says that many have approached him about treating more foreigners. Elite hospitals have long attracted wealthy patients from the Middle East and Mr Lyons said that many local hospitals could also raise money this way. “We’re looking at bringing together NHS trusts outside London, particularly in the North, to look at markets like Russia, India and China.” Even small hospitals could exploit connections forged by staff from overseas.
About 20 large hospitals are already working abroad. Moorfields Eye Hospital has a branch in Dubai.