In my last blog post I put forward my applause and support for the governments’ plans to encourage NHS trusts to sell and develop their brands abroad such as Great Ormond Street Hospital. Today I want to explain how I would go about taking the NHS brand to the global market.
It’s going to involve some harsh truths.
First thing’s first. The NHS and the way it’s run here at home, in Britain cannot work abroad. The system is bureaucratic, lackadaisical, financially unsound and unsustainable. Well meaning chief executives are constrained by government targets and middle management lack the necessary skills to manage single units let alone hospitals and trusts. The system is only getting by because of a combination of continued (though eventually dwindling) funding and the vocational efforts of healthcare staff ( though increasingly demoralised).
No-one wants to buy that. And that’s not what we’re selling.
We have to shift away from the mentality of the suffering NHS to that of the awe inspiring British healthcare system. We have to start thinking like a corporation because we will now be in competition with a range of international healthcare institutions.
So how do we do it? What is there to sell? Quite a lot actually but of all there is one key factor.
Let’s be under no illusions here. Britain has been one of the pioneers in healthcare research and application for decades if not the majority of the history of modern medicine. From Gray’s anatomy (the book!), Jenner’s smallpox vaccine to the invention of the CT scanner we’ve always been on the cutting edge. That’s recognised with hundreds of foreign students coming to train here and even more coming as medical tourists.
No matter what your impression is of our hospital wards or your local GP they are not synonymous with the views of the global markets we will target. The British education system attracts foreign students aplenty and that’s because the country is seen as having great minds and systems to impart knowledge and skill. It is those very assumptions, based on fact, which will enable us to take our services abroad.
So where do we go? We needs markets with money, an appetite for investment and preferably those who already have ties with Britain.
Location, Location, Location!
The money’s in the middle east. Specifically, it’s in the gulf region. Especially, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.
The governments are pro-active in their involvement with foreign investors especially if it leads to the increasing development of profitability of their nations. Particularly, nations like the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar value the role of infrastructure development and knowledge services. In time so will previously war torn nations such as Iraq.
Healthcare fulfils both these needs. We’re not limited to medical care either, we have world renowned medical training facilities which we can expand abroad too. Harvard Medical School signed a contract to develop an equivalent satellite facility in Dubai in 2009. I can foresee this can be tied into the funding for our homegrown doctors and nurses but I digress.
So How do we Do it?
We have to treat healthcare as an industry and we need to treat the global NHS brand as a profit making exercise. We have to plan the process as a means to get as much money back to Britain to fund our own services.
The bottom line is profit.
We need to extract dedicated individuals from the NHS Confederation, UK Trade and Investment, Foreign Office and the appropriate Royal Colleges of Medicine and Nursing to form a union of experts to analyse the most profitable trust brands, the market, repackage the product and aggressively seeks global partnerships and contracts.
To allow each NHS trust, with some (yet, unspecified) assistance to go about this mammoth task itself is absurd.
These are the questions that needs to be answered by the task force I suggest needs to be formed:
1. Which services do medical tourists demand when they come to the United Kingdom? 2. Which private hospitals do they use in the United Kingdom? 3. In which NHS trusts are high demand private practice doctors based? 4. Which NHS trusts have the highest percentage of private practice as a part of their balance sheets? 5. How do their financial books look? 5. Which nations do we have already active, high-yield investments with especially in knowledge based services? 6. Can they provide the necessary infrastructure for us to use or must we provide it ourselves or is their a relevant home firm we can partner with? *7. What role can private British healthcare firms (providers/insurers) play?*
*(I have put point 7 between asterisks simply because it’s a factor that has not been considered or spoken of yet. I am an ardent advocate of public-private sector collaboration and I believe profit creates an incentive for innovation and initiative but I will reserve discussing point 7 for a future blog.)
There are still many unanswered questions but we need to accept why this initiative has been proposed. It’s to make money so that we can fund healthcare at home. It can be done as long as we start thinking and behaving like we are a private sector institution but it has to be a facilitated, regulated and closely monitored.
Providing excellent clinical care abroad could be the reason we can keep providing it at home.
So that’s my view! Tomorrow I will discuss how we have to regulate this process so that patients at home reap the dividends.
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Dr Saif F Abed Founding Partner AbedGraham Healthcare Strategies Ltd www.abedgraham.com