The UK is now adopting a global ‘open door’ policy – to everyone that is, except its nearest neighbours.
For, after 46 years the UK is now no longer a member of the European Union. That doesn’t just mean an end to easier travel and working without permits for both British and European citizens. It has also resulted in the severing of hundreds of commercial and customs ties. In other words, the tearing-up of previous trade agreements.
As a result, the UK will be looking to set up new alliances and attempt to woo foreign businesses from other areas of the world – and right now the focus is on the big powerhouse that is the United States, together with the wealthy Gulf and Eastern powerhouses.
Growing competition in London’s Private Hospitals
The NHS has been leaning heavily on the private sector during the pandemic. And it will continue to do so. No-where is that more clear than in the government’s recent commitment to make £10bn available to clinical commissioning groups to buy treatment from private providers. The move is a much-needed attempt to help the NHS clear up the huge backlog of deferred and cancelled operations, built up while clinicians continue to treat desperately ill Covid-19 patients.
So, the UK needs to sign up new commercial interests. One of the main sectors of industry that deal makers will be targeting, is private healthcare. America has already made clear its ambition to break into what it considers the UK’s enviable healthcare system. Just look at the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic in London, for instance. The former opened at the beginning of 2020 and the latter will finish construction soon. Cleveland Clinic London has taken out a lease for 123 years on its Central London facility, signalling it is definitely here to stay for a century at least. That’s good news, since competition in London’s private hospital industry will mean an increase in quality and services for patients seeking access to the best private healthcare.
And there is certainly no shortage of expertise already in the UK capital. Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, Moorfields, The Portland, BUPA Cromwell and The London Bridge Hospital (a HCA Healthcare facility) all have excellent reputations. Birmingham – an hour away from London – has the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where a new private wing is to open later this year. Further North, Newcastle’s Freemans Hospital is the country’s centre of excellence for transplant surgery.
But the growing number of private health care institutions has its very vocal detractors. One is the anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It. They warn of the potential increased cost of drugs and greater access to the NHS supply chain by private healthcare companies. At the same time, the US has been vocal about its pharmaceutical companies and healthcare businesses playing a part in any future post-Brexit trade deal.
Medical tourism’s £219m annual ‘bill’
Meanwhile, it’s no wonder the UK government welcomed interest from across the Atlantic considering that in ‘normal times’ medical tourism brings in around £219 million every year.
International medical patients visit London from all parts of the world, and particularly from the MENA region, where government subsidies often fund treatment abroad for qualifying patients. Not only will these patients receive the type of first-class health care provided by the UK’s free National Health Service (NHS) but they won’t have to wait for it either, since they are paying handsomely for the privilege. Private payors can also access treatments which aren’t available on the NHS such as those focusing on weight loss, conception and aesthetics.
Getting back to the subject of healthcare excellence, it’s not only in health care that the UK healthcare system excels. For years now, national institutions have also proved a hub for Research and Development – Oxford University’s Research Unit being a case in point. The team there discovered the ‘more practical’ version of the COVID-19 vaccine (i.e. it can be stored at reasonable temperatures) and which is set to be administered around the world. This can only serve to strengthen the appeal of the UKs medical institutions to provide first-class private healthcare.
And what about the international patient?
As well as striking up deals and encouraging foreign healthcare businesses, will the UK also make it easier for private patients to receive treatment there? At present medical tourists to the UK require a This confirms they have the finances to pay for their treatment and that they don’t have a terminal illness. The visa is for six months initially, but can be renewed for up to 11 months. Costs are £83 and £289 respectively. Might these visa times expand – or costs lower – in future?
Meanwhile, any fear of COVID-19 destroying the popularity of medical treatment and tourism in the UK can be batted back by recent history. Time and again tourism in general has recovered followed devastation – 9/11 in the States, the SARS virus and a global recession in 2008. Now that several vaccines exists, there’s optimism about international patients returning to the UK again.