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UK’s NHS to sell healthcare expertise abroad

Healthcare UK will launch in autumn to link UK hospitals with overseas clients

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) is being encouraged to expand its services abroad in a move designed to open up a new income stream.

Under plans from the Department of Health and UK Trade and Investment, a new organisation called Healthcare UK will launch this autumn and link up British hospitals with overseas clients who are willing to pay to learn from the NHS.

This is likely to include services such as setting up and running hospitals and advising on methods of treatment, with potential markets including the Middle East, China, India and Brazil.

In this way the government says the NHS can help support other countries' healthcare systems, but the move has a strong financial motive.

David Stout, deputy chief executive of NHS managers' body the NHS Confederation, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The healthcare industry internationally is estimated at $4trn (£2.54trn).

“If the NHS can help bring in some of that income to both support the NHS locally and UK PLC, if we can see the health service as something that generates income as well as generates spend, I think that's absolutely right and we should do that.”

The profitability aspect was also touted by health minister Anne Milton, who said: "This is 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.”

But healthcare charity the Patients Association was critical of the plans, with chief executive Katherine Murphy warning of the potential harm the UK system could face, considering the current implementation of Andrew Lansley's Health and Social Care Bill.

She said: "At a time of huge upheaval in the health service, when waiting times are rising and trusts are being asked to make £20bn of efficiency savings, this is another concerning distraction. The priority of the government, hospital trusts and clinicians should be NHS patients."

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed also questioned the motives of the scheme, echoing criticisms aimed at the coalition government throughout the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill that the NHS was being opened up to privatisation.

He said: “Under David Cameron we're seeing a rampant commercialisation of the NHS. He needs to get a grip and start focusing on patients, not profits."

The NHS Confederation's Stout countered claims that the launch of Healthcare UK could affect patients in the country, however, saying: "This is not about distorting what the NHS offers to UK citizens, this is about how we can exploit the brand of the NHS internationally.”

22nd August 2012

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