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NHS: Healthcare UK

Volume 743: debated on Thursday 14 February 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will ensure that the National Health Service benefits from the establishment of Healthcare UK to market the NHS brand abroad.

My Lords, Healthcare UK will focus on high-value opportunities internationally for both industry and the NHS. Where NHS expertise is used, those NHS organisations will benefit financially, with the income being reinvested into patient care for patients here in the UK. Furthermore, any activity undertaken by Healthcare UK will be overseen by a board, which will be jointly administered by the Department of Health, UKTI and the NHS Commissioning Board.

Can the Minister tell me whether, with the establishment of Healthcare UK, there is a danger that some areas of this country might be advantaged at the expense of other areas of this country?

My Lords, we are determined that that should not happen. We recognise that the whole of the UK healthcare sector, both private and public, has a great deal to offer internationally. This does not just apply to a few elite organisations. We want to support any NHS organisation that wants to work internationally by helping it to build its capacity and capability to do so. We also want to help industry. In doing that, I stress that we view it as of paramount importance that any work undertaken in no way harms or compromises the quality of patient care here in the UK.

My Lords, the NHS clearly has much to offer other countries. Does the Minister find it puzzling, as I do, that, in one sense, we are promoting the NHS all over the world yet, when people from other countries want to come and study here, particularly in health and medical sciences, they find that the visa restrictions are obstructive? When will the Government review their whole policy on visas?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a pertinent issue in the context of medical trainees. We are addressing it. In particular, we are looking at a request from Saudi Arabia to send postgraduate medical trainees to this country. We believe that we have found a way through that, and will continue to work on that issue for the benefit of other countries as well.

My Lords, when the NHS began in 1948, most major hospitals had private wards and private consulting rooms. The great advantage of this was that they generated income which supported the care of NHS patients. The other advantage was that the consultants who were entitled to undertake private practice were geographically whole time. When the late Lady Castle was the Secretary of State, the Labour Government removed the private beds from NHS hospitals, resulting in a massive development of private wards outside the NHS. Are the Government now embarking on a programme to improve the facilities for private care in the NHS, thus generating more income for the support of NHS patients?

I am sure the noble Lord will know that a number of our flagship hospitals already have private facilities which treat domestic and international private patients, including Great Ormond Street and the Royal Marsden. All such treatment of course takes place outside NHS provision. However, it is important to emphasise that Healthcare UK is about much more than private patients. In fact, that will not be its primary focus. It is about sharing this country’s expertise, technology and knowledge to support healthcare systems and infrastructure with international partners. Healthcare UK will provide support if there are NHS organisations wanting to bring patients in from overseas but that will not be its principal focus.

My Lords, the NHS brand is the envy of the world and we welcome this enterprise. Will my noble friend tell me how many clinicians he expects might be involved and in what particular roles and disciplines?

It is a little too early to say because the business plan for Healthcare UK has yet to be drawn up. We have appointed a managing director in the shape of Howard Lyons who I think will do an excellent job. It remains to be seen what requirements are needed. We are looking at certain target markets at the moment—in particular, the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Libya, China and India. But it depends on the requests that we get from those countries as to what skills set might be needed.

Given that the National Health Service has much to learn from other health services and best practice elsewhere in Europe and the wider world, what methods will the Government adopt to promote that interchange? Will the noble Lord give an example of such an exchange which has benefited medical practice in this country?

The noble Lord makes an extremely important point. This is not only a one-way street in terms of exporting British expertise. I know one very good example in which some of our trauma clinicians have been seconded to hospitals in South Africa where there is tremendous expertise on gunshot wounds, for example. That has been of direct benefit to clinicians in this country.

There are some very rare conditions, such as Hunter syndrome, in which the United Kingdom is a world leader in developing treatments. These treatments are very expensive to deliver for the very small number of people who have the condition. Would they be more affordable for UK citizens if the treatments were offered to a wider population base, such as across Europe? Will Healthcare UK have this kind of initiative in mind?

My Lords, potentially that is an area at which Healthcare UK could look. Certainly, some of our conversations with our partners in the Middle East have indicated that they are very interested in taking advantage of our world-class facilities in highly specialised areas.

My Lords, given that EU funds for investment and research will be increased between 2014 and 2020, and given the reluctance of British companies to participate in drawing down on that research money, will the Minister ensure that in the health service field we get involved, we partner with others and we use it to our best advantage?

Yes, my Lords. Again, Healthcare UK will be in a position to foster collaborative research partnerships all over the world.