Published in “The Telegraph” By Rowena Mason, Political Correspondent. 12:17PM BST 21 Aug 2012
Labour began selling NHS services overseas two years ago despite condemning the Coalition’s plans to set up profit-making hospitals abroad, official documents show.
The opposition party is facing accusations of hypocrisy after saying the Government”s decision to export NHS expertise is an example of David Cameron’s “rampant commercialisation”.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, called on the Prime Minister to “get his priorities right” and concentrate on the NHS at home, rather than chasing profit abroad.
However, it has now emerged that Gordon Brown’s government set up a profit-making arm called NHS Global to “maximise its international potential… and bring benefits back to the UK taxpayer”.
Its purpose was to “market valuable assets across the system overseas, ranging from innovative products and professional expertise to provision of NHS services and treatments”.
Anne Milton, the public health minister, accused Labour of “campaigning against its own policy”
“Andy Burnham has jumped on every passing bandwagon – now he is attacking the ability of hospital doctors to raise money for NHS patients,” she said. “It is clear that Labour will stop at nothing to score a political point, even if it means damaging patients.”
The Coalition plans to set up a new body called Healthcare UK to capitalise on the good name of the NHS, which was promoted all over the world during the Olympic opening ceremony.
It will encourage hospitals to set up profit-making branches abroad to raise funds for patients at home and raise the international profile of the health service.
Critics said the Government should be concentrating on the huge challenges facing the NHS at home, rather than abroad.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “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 £20 billion of efficiency savings, this is another concerning distraction. The priority of the Government, hospital trusts and clinicians should be NHS patients.”
However, David Stout, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, insisted the plan would not “divert attention away from local health services”.
It is “absolutely right” to charge for NHS services abroad and bring back the profit to help improve patient care in Britain, he said.
Mr Stout said the idea of setting up foreign branches of well-known hospitals, such as Great Ormond Street and the Royal Marsden, is a huge opportunity as long as services in the UK are not harmed.
He added: “I don’t think this is distorting what we offer UK citizens, this is about exploiting the brand internationally.”
He said any profits would be “marginal” in the scheme of the NHS’s £100 billion budget but the health service should do everything it can to “help UK Plc”.
Officials from the Department of Health and UK Trade and Industry will launch the joint scheme this autumn, which will aim to build links between hospitals wishing to expand and foreign governments which want access to British health services.
The proposal was reportedly inspired by hospitals in America, including Baltimore’s John Hopkins, opening similar branches abroad.
British universities have already successfully exported their brands, including the Nottingham University’s campus in Malaysia.