Julia Manning for the Daily Mail, 22nd August 2012
It was surprising to hear the government announce the launch of a new initiative yesterday to encourage NHS Trusts to expand abroad (as covered here by Tim Shipman), but only because this is already happening. Back in 2010, Andy Burnham, the then Health Minister launched NHS Global, with the explicit aim of generating income internationally from the NHS brand to be ploughed back into NHS care at home. He could well have been inspired by Moorfields Eye Hospital, where I did some of my training. They launched a satellite hospital in Dubai in 2007. Moorfields brought local doctors over to the UK to train them and they then went back to deliver care under the internationally renowned ‘Moorfields’ brand.
The fact that Moorfields already had a brand however is key. “NHS Eyecare” (despite the pun) would not have had the same appeal. It will be the major hospitals who will have an opportunity here, often already with an internationally known brand and area of specialty such as Great Ormond Street or the Royal Marsden.The government will have to be careful about overselling the ‘NHS’ tag, despite the Olympic endorsement. No one is looking forward to the Mid-Staffs inquiry report due out in the Autumn when there will be no getting away from seeing the NHS at it’s worst.
There is another key point here – this would not be nearly so appealling for NHS Hospitals if the government hadn’t already raised the private income cap. Until the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, NHS hospitals were only allowed a small fraction of their income to come from private sources. The new Act means that up to 49% of an NHS hospital’s income can now come from the private sector, which includes private patients, research, support biotchnology start-ups as well as international sources. And before you start to worry – the income has to be spent in the NHS and it is illegal for any NHS patient to have their treatment delayed in preference of a private patient.
This policy has been supported by both the main parties and Labour should be claiming the idea as rightly their own. We should not be obsessed with all NHS income coming from the taxpayer when we know that rationing is happening now and with an ageing population demand will continue to rise. No options should be off the table when it comes to generating new income for the NHS and it is not before time that we exploit our world-class hospital brands to enhance our reputation and potentially attract more business in the UK too. As Andy Burnham pointed out back in 2010, BBC worldwide has been a huge success; added to this our universities, police and fire rescue crews have all contributed internationally and capitalised on their reputations. The healthcare industry is estimated to be worth $4 trillion worldwide. This is surely an ethical opportunity for generating more income for the NHS, exploiting our succesful hospital brands and should be part of our growth agenda.