How medical tourism in Northern Ireland is helping private health firm
3fivetwo Group, Northern Ireland's largest private healthcare firm, has ambitious plans to grow its business in the coming year across the UK, Ireland and further afield.
Earlier this year, 3fivetwo Group won the Excellence in Marketing award in the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards for a successful partnership with the GAA.
The company provides health services for 90,000 Ulster GAA players - the first deal between a healthcare provider and a sport governing body.
The company said plans for growth were in response to increasing demand for private health due to budget cuts, soaring waiting lists and pressure on public services.
Dr Suresh Tharma, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist and maxillofacial consultant Ashrok Songa set up the business in 2003 with the aim of making Northern Ireland a top provider of private healthcare.
In less than 12 years, the company has outgrown its original consulting rooms at 352 Lisburn Road, Belfast, and now has award-winning centres covering all the main medical specialisms. Group business development director Mark Regan said: "There is no simple solution to the problems facing the NHS, but it's clear we need to think more imaginatively about how to create a modern healthcare system.
"It's a challenge amplified by the necessity of meeting the high personal expectations of an ageing population, set against the reverse thrust of spiralling costs and shrinking resources.
"We would argue that the independent health sector, which has already been managing the healthcare needs of approximately 10-15% of the Northern Ireland population for some 40 years, is an essential element of the mix."
3fivetwo Group currently has a multi-million pound turnover through companies employing 240 people. It also uses 400 other consultants and 300 nursing staff on a regular basis.
In the year ending March 2014, 3fivetwo Medical Limited's turnover was £40.37m, up from £33.2m, while pre-tax profits were steady at around £1.68m. 3fivetwo Healthcare, Kingsbridge Private Hospital, Origin Fertility Care, Dental Excellence, the Training Academy, Optique, Cosmetech, H3 Health Insurance and Chelsea Private Clinic on King's Road, London, all fall under its umbrella.
Kingsbridge Private Hospital on Belfast's Lisburn Road, which the company regards as the "jewel in the crown," is being extended in a £2.5m expansion which will include Northern Ireland's first private cardiac assessment and imaging centre.
Another £350,000 is being spent on the group's own training academy, a 100-delegate auditorium and a 1,000sq metre incident simulation facility.
In recent years, the group says it also has contribute to the economy by attracting 'medical tourists' from as close to home as the Republic and as far afield as Libya.
Mr Regan said: "Private healthcare has traditionally been accessible only to those fortunate enough to have medical insurance.
"Today, affordable private insurance is playing an increasingly important role in taking pressure off the NHS."