The astonishing idea that the NHS brand should be marketed abroad

It’s not April 1 so we’ve got to take this story seriously. We can see merit in the export abroad of the skills inside Britain’s medical sector - after all, it’s something that happens already, large numbers of foreigners do come to private hospitals here for treatment. But the export of the NHS itself, well

The NHS is to be exported across the world as part of efforts to boost investment in Britain post-Brexit, under controversial new Government plans.

Hospitals and heath watchdogs will be encouraged to set up franchises in dozens of countries, with profits ploughed into supporting the health service.

The NHS will be asked to target up to £7bn of opportunities a year over the next decade, in a bid to share expertise and increase investment in frontline services.

Officials hope to turn the UK's national health service into a global brand, in the same way that the BBC gains significant income from its commercial BBC Worldwide arm.

We think that people might be believing their own propaganda here. That the NHS is a world beating health service, the Very Wonder Of The World.

Actually, as all of the varied rankings show from the Commonwealth Fund through to WHO, it’s a pretty average to bad health care service. Here in Europe it’s one of the worst when we consider avoiding “mortality amenable to health care.”

What pushes the NHS up the rankings is the way the rankings are constructed, offering high marks for equality of access, free at the point of use, equitable financing and so on. The rankings reflect, as they always will, the prejudices of those constructing the rankings.

But all of that which is considered admirable about the NHS is based upon the idea that it is health care free at the point of use funded by the British taxpayer. Everything else about the NHS, standards of treatment, effectiveness of them, waiting times and so on are lower than average to pretty bad at best.

What’s the one thing we cannot export? Or at least we rather hope no one tries it - that funding to provide health care free at the point of use using the resources of the British taxpayer. So, what is this NHS that we’re going to be exporting then? There’s not really an NHS to be exported, is there?

We can hope we suppose. That this is all a plan. Within that financing structure there are dedicated and skilled people doing excellent work. By exporting those skills and expertise to where the financing structure cannot exist we should be able to prove that, somewhere, within the NHS is an actually world beating health care service.

Then all we’ll need to do is free those skills and expertise from that straitjacket of that financing and management system and we too will have an excellent health care service. For we’ll have in front of us how good British health care can be when operating in competitive markets abroad.

Sadly, however good this idea we don’t think that there’s anyone Machiavellian to have thought this through properly. Instead they really do think that foreigners will line up to gain access to NHS treatment even if they’ve got to pay full market prices for it. Not a bet we would count on ourselves.