TRADE unions yesterday slammed plans for NHS trusts to make money out of India.
This came after the former disgraced Labour health secretary Patricia Hewitt told the Health Service Journal that up to 20 NHS trusts are in discussions with Indian healthcare providers about potential business agreements.
BMA Council deputy chairman Dr Kailash Chand made it clear that this would not be acceptable.
Denouncing the move as a ‘huge scandal’ he said: ‘If trusts do not have enough money to treat patients in Britain, they should be getting help from the government.
‘I am extremely concerned that the next step will be patients being flown to India for treatment because these trusts think that it could save them money.
‘Doctors and consultants should not be sent to India to make money for the cash-strapped NHS.’
Hewitt, now chair of the UK India Business Council, said trusts were either trying to access the fast growing sub-continental market, estimated to be worth £110bn by 2017, or to harness Indian expertise.
She said the talks involved 10 to 20 trusts. Most were at early stages, but she expected ‘a half dozen to a dozen’ trusts or UK companies to have entered agreements by 2015.
She told HSJ: ‘Our ambition is to get as many (NHS trusts, UK health companies and charities) there as we can.
‘I would certainly hope by 2015 we will be able to say…here is what they are doing and selling and here are the benefits that are accruing both to Britain and to India.’
Hewitt would not comment on specific negotiations.
She added it would take time to derive significant revenue from any deals but suggested, in the longer term, a combination of income from ventures in India, and learning from India’s ‘frugal innovation’ could help close the NHS’s projected £30bn funding gap by 2020.
Hewitt claimed there were a growing number of areas where Indian doctors could deliver similar or better clinical outcomes at substantially lower costs than the NHS.
These included a range of cardiac procedures, including artery clearing coronary bypass surgery, where an Indian hospital chain had changed the patient pathway.
It employed lower grade workers to carry out less skilled work so surgeons were required only to carry out highly skilled tasks.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: ‘It is disgusting to see money and big business put at the heart of our NHS instead of patients.
‘India is a poor country and we should not be exploiting its health resources to save money in the UK.’
GMB National Officer Rehana Azam told News Line: ‘As if exporting jobs in manufacturing wasn’t enough, now they want to export our NHS Brand so money can be put before healthcare.
‘UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) works with UK businesses and they have clearly been lobbying the NHS with the help of government departments.
‘Healthcare UK recognises the UK as a world leader and now want to export UK health and drain our NHS of vital services, expertise and experience.
‘Bring in the Tories with their toxic Health Bill and introduce compulsory competition in the NHS via a regulator, Monitor, and welcome to NHS Plc.
‘Our NHS is facing its biggest attack, led by politicians past and present, and we can’t let this continue.
‘NHS supporters are growing day by day and we intend to identify all those responsible for attacking our prized possession, the NHS, and hold them accountable.’