NHS hospitals in the People's Republic of China?

A National Health Service (NHS) sign is seen in the grounds of St Thomas' Hospital, in front of the Houses of Parliament. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Dr Masoud Afnan is one of the world's leading experts in infertility; he now works at Beijing United Hospital in the People's Republic of China.

Until 2010 he was Clinical Director for Gynaecology at Birmingham Women's University.

"The NHS is a fantastic 'brand'" he told me today. He of all people has the background to be be able to assess the potential for NHS 'branded' hospitals setting up overseas.

The hospital he works in is one of the most modern I've ever seen.

It's immaculate, expensive and caters for the 180,000 or so expats in Beijing, but increasingly provides care for the expanding Chinese middle classes who want high quality care overseen by Western doctors.

Dr Afnan has 30 years of experience as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, he's written over 60 publications and 10 book chapters.

His vast experience gathered ever since he graduated from Charing Cross medical school at the University of London has gained him what can only be called a cult following among the wealthier Chinese and foreigners who come to the hospital where he works, to be treated and cared for by him.

So a clear case of of how NHS human expertise can be a huge 'selling point' overseas. Dr Afnan told me that because the NHS is so well regarded within the medical profession that if an NHS 'branded' hospital were to set up in China then many well qualified doctors and staff would want to work there.

I asked if it wouldn't be a clash of cultures for a free at the point of need service to then be selling itself as a private health provider to the richer sections of society in China.

He pointed out that NHS hospitals in the UK already have private wings. Besides, most NHS surgeons and many doctors have their private paying patients as well.

On the face of it then, NHS hospitals would be an attractive option in China. However, Dr Afnan warned that the NHS 'branded' medical centres would have to build close relationships with the Chinese government and other medical providers before they could open their doors.

The UK style of hospital couldn't just be parachuted into the Chinese landscape. After all Chinese patients already use a high volume-based health service.

What Dr Afnan was saying was that NHS hospitals in China would have to offer a level of quality and comfort way above the standards Chinese patients were used to.

The NHS would essentially have to offer luxury and the personalised care seen in private UK hospitals in order to compete in China.

So it could be that wealthy Chinese patients provide profits to NHS hospitals in Communist China which are then ploughed back into the free health service in the UK.

Nurse, bring me an aspirin!

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