London: Britain`s cash-strapped National Health Service (NHS) is planning to strike up a series of healthcare deals in India, including inviting Indian doctors to treat patients in UK, in a bid to boost its coffers.
Patricia Hewitt, Labour`s former health secretary and current chair of UK India Business Council (UKIBC), claimed that between 10 and 20 NHS trusts are holding talks with Indian providers and "half a dozen to a dozen" should reach an agreement by 2015.
The proposals centre around NHS doctors being flown to India to treat patients in a bid to raise cash for British hospitals and less expensive Indian doctors coming to the UK to perform operations.
Hewitt said that it would take time before trusts saw significant revenue from India, but added that the income could help them close the NHS` funding gap, which is projected to be as large as 30 billion pounds by 2020.
"Our ambition is to get as many (NHS trusts, 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 told the Health Service Journal (HSJ).
India`s healthcare market is set to be worth 110 billion pounds by 2017 and the British government is keen to encourage British businesses and NHS trusts to gain a foothold in the sub-continent.
One of the key areas where British expertise is sought is in India`s growing primary care sector, which many NHS experts are already helping to develop.
While the British government denied suggestions this could mean patients being flown out from Britain to India for cheaper treatment, health campaigners have warned against such a move.
"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 cash-strapped trusts. It would mean we could lose manpower here, and I believe that poses a serious threat to patient safety," said Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA).
"I would be extremely concerned about NHS professionals providing services abroad. It would be a huge distraction from the provision of care here," said Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association.
The UK`s department of health (DoH), however, stressed that "NHS patients will come first".
"But we should help and support the health service to compete internationally for the benefit of its patients in England," a DoH spokesperson said.
DoH has ensured all activities of the NHS Trusts will be overseen by a board jointly administered by the Department of Health, UKTI and NHS England to make sure that under no circumstances the quality service is compromised.