Liberated UK NHS hospitals to attract medical tourists to the UK


Government proposals to lift a cap on the proportion of income NHS hospitals can earn from private work will mean several will seek to attract more paying patients from abroad. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has set out the government's ambitious plans to reform the NHS. Patients will get more choice and control, backed by an information revolution. The NHS White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS sets out the Government's long-term vision for the future of the NHS.  The vision builds on the core values and principles of the NHS - a comprehensive service, available to all, free at the point of use, based on need, not ability to pay.

Foundation Trusts (typically established as independent non-profit structures running large teaching hospitals) are to increasingly fall outside of state control. Legislation is anticipated that will remove borrowing limits; abolish the cap on the amount of income they can earn from other sources such as private patients to reinvest; and enable them to tailor their own governance arrangements. This relaxation of control is to be made so as to allow trust hospitals to be able to compete more freely with other healthcare providers. The 130 NHS foundation trust hospitals have had their private income capped for many years .The cap had meant most hospitals were unable to generate more than 2 % of their budgets from private income. To get foundation trust legislation through parliament in 2003, ministers agreed to a cap on private work to ensure the hospitals remained true to their NHS traditions. This has stopped some of the leading hospitals in the NHS competing with private firms for patients. Many had enough UK paying patients, meaning they had no incentive to seek overseas patients as their private counterparts do. But these restrictions are being removed as part of the NHS overhaul, which includes an order that all NHS trusts must become foundation trusts within three years. So eventually, all NHS hospitals will be free to seek private patients from at home or abroad. Sue Slipman of The Foundation Trust Network says, “It is exciting for foundation trusts. There are huge opportunities to innovate. One of the most obvious areas for expansion would be in fertility services where treatment on the NHS is severely restricted.”

Top NHS hospital trusts are already looking at building new wings and wards to cater for private patients set up hospitals abroad and offer airport-to-hospital services for medical tourists. Hospitals will be targeting rich potential patients from Russia and the Middle East; they do not plan to compete by cutting prices.

Manchester's Christie Hospital plans to treble its private income from £10 million to £30 million within 10 years thanks to a deal with US-based private hospital group HCA which will see the company pay £14 million for a new private cancer centre. University College London Hospital has already gone down this route with a private US health firm, which has located a private unit on its site for cancer treatment. The firm leases the space as well as paying for the NHS services it uses, such as intensive care, radiology and cleaning and catering. Several British hospitals are already cashing in on their international reputations by marketing their services to overseas patients. The Royal Brompton and Harefield in London, the UK's largest cardio-respiratory centre, devotes an entire section on its website to marketing its personalised, world-class service to overseas patients. It offers patients a city guide and even suggests trips to the high-end shopping facilities of nearby Sloane Street and Harrods. Moorfields, the eye hospital, has seen patient numbers jump five-fold to 9,700 after opening for business in Dubai; it is planning another hospital in Abu Dhabi. The Royal Marsden, a leading cancer hospital in London, already has substantial income from private patients, sees over 40,000 patients from the UK and abroad seen each year; and with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research has discovered or developed more new anti-cancer drugs than the National Cancer Institute in the USA.Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, which carried out the first successful heart transplant in the UK, has made plans to expand to attract more private patients by building a new hospital and tripling private income.



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