Will expansion of the NHS abroad benefit UK patients? NoBMJ 2013; 346 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8496 (Published 02 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:e8496
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In their head- to-head on the effects of expanding NHS abroad for UK patients Philip Leonard and Allyson Pollock discuss the possible effects of health tourism. We have recently completed the most comprehensive research project to date examining the effects of UK medical tourism on the NHS. Research findings currently under submission in this journal may have some bearing on this debate:
Our analysis based on multiple data sources, including the International Passenger Survey, indicates that contrary to some popular media report the UK is a clear net exporter of patients. More UK residents currently choose to travel abroad for treatment than international patients travel to the UK to access treatment here (in the NHS and privately). Depending upon procedure there is the potential for these patients to have also saved the UK resources.
Our research based on freedom of information requests to NHS Foundation Trust hospitals also indicates that despite comparatively small numbers of international private patients being treated – 6 % across a sample of 28 hospitals - these are responsible for 35% of total private income in these Trusts. This indicates that private foreign patients may indeed be more lucrative than UK patients treated privately within the NHS.
Overall, in common with most discussion of trade in health services, there is a great deal of opinion based on shaky, if any, evidence. Our study aims to fill that gap, and in doing so shows that many aspects of currently received wisdom are really myths. It underlines that we need more accurate evidence inform policymaking on issues discussed by Leonard and Pollock.
Competing interests: No competing interests