This idea to “sell” the NHS abroad is not necessarily new. But these proposals present an opportunity to do what is already being done in a much more systematic way. We know the NHS is well-regarded internationally, and these proposals mean we can help generate additional income off the back of our reputation. The duty of any NHS organisation, first and foremost, will always be to treat the needs of its local patients as a priority. It is therefore highly unlikely that this scheme would have a detrimental impact on patients in the UK. But the health service is facing an unprecedented financial challenge and, like any organisation, it must consider new ways of working to survive. The healthcare industry internationally is worth trillions of dollars. If the NHS can use its expertise to get just a small piece of that pie, and help its financial balance sheet, then we should welcome that.
David Stout is deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation.
The guiding principle of the NHS must be to ensure that 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 by the government to make £20bn in efficiency savings, this is another concerning distraction. The drive to increase commercial ventures, which are naturally going to be important for hospitals because they need to raise revenue, would result in the attention of hospitals being taken away from their core purpose - to treat patients in the UK. Attention would instead be focused on these hospitals abroad. While there are some world-renowned and exceptionally successful hospitals, already promoting their skills and services abroad, unleashing this approach across the NHS risks undermining the integrity of the health service. The priority of the government, hospital trusts and clinicians should be NHS patients.
Katherine Murphy is chief executive of the Patients Association.