x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Experts in the UAE welcome move to expand NHS

UK patients could benefit from National Health Service branding in the UAE.

Nurses representing Great Ormond Street, which provides paediatric training and support in Dubai, and the NHS take part in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Nurses representing Great Ormond Street, which provides paediatric training and support in Dubai, and the NHS take part in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The UK government initiative to expand the National Health Service abroad has been met with less scepticism in the UAE than in the agency's home country.

Experts say the initiative could prove beneficial in the long run, as long as the investment does not compromise UK resources.

"I can see why there might be concern in spending UK money to build hospitals in other countries, but it doesn't have to work that way," said Dr Chris Canning, medical director of Moorfields Eye Hospital in Dubai.

"For example, all the set-up and start-up fees for our hospital came from profit generated in our private wing in London, and not from taxpayer money."

Moorfields, a private offshoot of one of the hospitals belonging to the NHS Foundation Trust, generated about £300,000 (Dh1.7 million) in profit last year.

All of this was sent back to the UK to support the NHS, Dr Canning said.

Likewise, there was no drain of professionals from the health system in Britain, as staff were recruited to work in the foreign centres, he said.

"In our case, I was the only one who came directly from the NHS. Everyone else was recruited from abroad," Dr Canning said.

"All these individuals never would have been working in the NHS and would probably be back in their home countries."

But this does not mean that the British government should depend on projects abroad as a source of income.

"By no means should money generated from abroad be the only way of delivering care in the UK. Money from the UK should provide that," Dr Canning said.

"But generally it may be used to help. The biggest challenge is rebuilding our hospitals that are hundreds of years old, and the money we generate could support that."

Lynsey Wright, a British citizen living in Dubai, is concerned the initiative may compromise the level of health care at home.

"It's not about the quality of healthcare professionals, but it's an issue of them being understaffed and overworked," said Ms Wright, from Manchester.

"For example, it takes ages to get test results, and sometimes you don't get them at all and you have to chase them yourself.

"More focus needs to placed in improving health-care in the UK than starting projects abroad. But if it generates money to help back home, then that would be a good thing.

"The real question is whether NHS patients living abroad will have access to free health care at these facilities."

Two British-based healthcare providers, Virgin Care and Serco, have expressed interest in bidding for projects in the UAE.

Marcus Deville, a spokesman for Serco, said there was an opportunity to build and manage eight primary-care centres in Abu Dhabi. The proposal has yet to be tendered.

"This is still in its early stages, but we would be interested as we have experience in providing services in the Middle East for nearly 60 years and we are getting good support from the UK government," Mr Deville said.

mismail@thenational.ae