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NHS Hospitals Urged To Expand Abroad

(c) Sky News 2012

NHS hospitals have been advised by the Government to set up branches abroad to help increase their profits.

The move may see famous hospital names such as Great Ormond Street and Moorfields - which have already established outposts in the Middle East - expand their franchise worldwide.

The Department of Health (Euronext: IXSHL.NX - news) (DOH) has said the enterprise scheme would bring in much needed funds for patients and also raise the international profile of the NHS brand.

Officials from the DOH and UK Trade and Industry will launch the joint scheme this autumn, which aims to build links between hospitals wishing to expand and foreign governments which want access to British health services.

Upfront investment could only be drawn from income received from private patients and any profits made abroad would be channelled back to the UK, according to The Independent newspaper.

The proposal was reportedly inspired by hospitals in America, including Baltimore's Johns Hopkins, opening similar branches abroad.

It has emerged weeks after the NHS was shown off to the world in a segment of Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony.

Health minister Anne Milton said: "This is 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.

"This is also 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."

NHS Confederation chief executive David Stout insists it was "absolutely right" to generate income and dismissed concerns about a shift away from local services.

He said: "If this initiative diverted attention significantly away from running local health services into work internationally, I agree that would be a problem. But I really don't think that's what's going to happen.

"This is a real opportunity - the NHS has always been very well regarded internationally. We've often had international companies, organisations and countries come in to talk about the NHS, about how could we help, but we have never been very systematic about how we respond to those opportunities."

He added: "The healthcare industry internationally is estimated at $4tn (£2.54tn). 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."

However, the move was criticised in some quarters for moving the NHS away from its traditional ethos.

Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy told the Independent: "The guiding principle of the NHS must be to ensure that outcomes and care for patients comes before profits.

"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."

Jamie Reed MP, Labour's Shadow Health Minister, added: "At a time when staff are losing their jobs and waiting times are rising, the Government's priority should be sorting out the mess it has created in our NHS.

"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."

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