The government this week launched Healthcare UK, in Dubai at the Arab Health Congress, seeking to sell the best of the UK health sector to rich markets around the world. The NHS, the private sector, and academic health centres of excellence are to be branded and sold as world leaders in healthcare excellence.
It is claimed this venture will bring income to the NHS, jobs and growth for our struggling economy and no one will suggest this is not badly needed.
However, the first question that must be asked is whether the UK health sector is sufficiently stable to tolerate a distraction and what are the real benefits to be derived by ordinary local UK NHS trusts?
An example of this venture is Kings Health Partners, a partnership of Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital, Kings College Hospital, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and Kings College London.
The Department of Health has listed Kings Health Partners as a recent example of a public health organisation delivering the type of contracts to be sought under Healthcare UK in its work in developing services in Burjeel Hospital, and Shining Towers, wealthy facilities both in Abu Dhabi.
Kings Health Partners is developing a Foetal Medicine Clinic at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi and setting up a Day Case Outpatient Department in Shining Towers, Abu Dhabi.
Earlier analysis of the idea of Healthcare UK shows the focus is clearly on exploiting the reputation of NHS centres of excellence to capitalise on opportunities in rich countries that have traditionally sent patients abroad for treatment and are now seeking to set up their own local care centres.
There is a risk a two-tier service in the NHS will develop with increasingly prestigious and well known NHS organisations being supported to meet the demands of rich international customers. They will outstrip the offer to patients from local hospitals that will not have such support and provide such ‘excellence’.
Further, how will the current significant turbulence in the UK health sector be parcelled up at the trade fair in Dubai? Will there be any awkward questions asked about the 25,000 who marched last week against the shambles that is emerging in the NHS in south east London?
Most importantly, how will the income from providing healthcare to the fabulously wealthy flow back into the UK to fund care to populations and improve the health of the nation, particularly the poorest?
Kings Health Partners is one of the few publicly funded organisations listed by the Department of Health as recently embarking on delivery of these lucrative contracts; most are private companies.
It is only after the details of the initiative are fully unveiled in Abu Dhabi that the intentions can be evaluated, but public organisations setting out on this journey will need to retain an awareness of an earlier example that outlines the advantages private companies have when competing with public agencies.
Whilst most people using healthcare services in the UK probably do not desire the opulence of the Burjeel Hospital, neither do they wish to lose basic services or see deterioration in existing services due to the cuts and undeliverable demands of the current NHS reforms.
Addressing these issues would be seen by many as a greater priority than Healthcare UK.