The Times and the Independent both broke an interesting story this morning about government plans to set up a body to promote NHS expertise across the world as a way of making money for the domestic health service.
Some of Britain’s best-known hospitals are being lined up by the Government to export the “NHS brand” around the world and set up profit-making branches overseas to boost their incomes.
Under a radical plan to be launched this autumn, officials from the Department of Health and UK Trade and Investment will come together to act as a “dating agency” between hospitals that wish to expand overseas and foreign governments with a demand for British health services.
It’s an intriguing idea – but it’s not a new one. In fact the remit of this new body, which will be called “Healthcare UK”, sounds suspiciously similar to one set up by Labour, named NHS Global. Its website says:
We aim to strengthen both commercial and philanthropic activity overseas by offering support and advice to NHS organisations wishing to compete in the global market, in addition to building and growing the NHS brand and reputation internationally.
The question is, if such an agency already existed, why is the government creating a new one?
Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, told me he suspected the real point of Healthcare UK was to get foreign patients into British beds being run by private companies, so boosting those companies’ profits. The health department, unsurprisingly, denies this.
Unfortunately, department officials can’t tell me what the new body is actually for, as it hasn’t been properly launched yet.