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Row over NHS hospitals abroad plan

Critics have hit out at a Government initiative which could see NHS hospitals set up profit-making branches abroad.

The Patients Association claimed the scheme could shift focus away from local services and Labour said that ministers should concentrate on "patients, not profits".

Some of Britain's best known hospitals, such as Great Ormond Street, the Royal Marsden and Guy's and St Thomas', could take part in the initiative to raise funds for patients at home and promote the international profile of the health service.

However, critics have said that hospital trusts should remain focused on treating patients in the UK instead of being distracted by overseas investments.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "The guiding principle of the NHS must be to ensure that outcomes and care for patients comes before profits.

"At a time of huge upheaval in the health service, when waiting times are rising and trusts are being asked to make £20 billion of efficiency savings, this is another concerning distraction. The priority of the Government, hospital trusts and clinicians should be NHS patients."

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: "At a time when staff are losing their jobs and waiting times are rising, the Government's priority should be sorting out the mess it has created in our NHS. Under David Cameron we're seeing a rampant commercialisation of the NHS. He needs to get a grip and start focusing on patients, not profits."

But Health Minister Anne Milton said the project would benefit both UK patients and the British economy. She said: "This is good news for NHS patients, who will get better services at their local hospital as a result of the work the NHS is doing abroad and the extra investment that will generate."

The initiative would mirror schemes such as that of Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, which has built a unit of the same name in Dubai.

Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai opened in July 2007 to provide private eye care services to patients from the Middle East, many of whom would previously have had to travel further afield for treatment. A hospital spokeswoman said that the branch generated revenues of £4.9 million in 2011/12 and made a surplus of £300,000.

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