US healthcare company invests in NHS as Sunak visits Washington

New US-backed private hospital in Birmingham will include beds for NHS patients as well as access to radiotherapy and four operating theatres.

The Harborne Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK. Photo: HCA Healthcare UK
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An American private healthcare company’s investment in an NHS hospital in England is part of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s efforts to promote an economic alliance between the UK and US – something he is expected to tout during his visit to Washington this week.

The US-owned HCA UK has invested £33 million in a joint venture with NHS England to create a dedicated wing for NHS patients at its new private hospital in Birmingham, opening in 2024.

The Harborne Hospital will include 44 private inpatient beds, 16 private day-case beds and 72 NHS patient beds, with access to four operating theatres and a radiotherapy unit.

Its facilities will provide care for patients seeking early stage diagnostics, surgery, complex care and follow-up treatment for a range specialities including oncology, cardiology, neurology, haematology and urology.

The NHS wing of the hospital will provide additional capacity for the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. HCA UK has said the joint venture will “generate new resources that can be reinvested into NHS services”, but did not specify how it would do this.

A representative of the hospital told The National: "We have partnered in Joint Ventures with NHS trusts across the UK for over a decade.

As our partnerships have developed and strengthened, we have found innovative ways to collaborate with our partners from shared governance and learnings to joint accreditations, as well as investment in people and technology, this ensures these partnerships benefit all patients."

Mr Sunak will meet US President Joe Biden, members of Congress and business leaders during his trip to Washington this week in an effort to “re-energise” the economic partnerships between the two countries, his office said in a statement on Wednesday.

The joint venture with HCA UK is part of £14 billion in new investments by US firms in the UK, the Prime Minister’s office announced.

“The UK and US … need to build an alliance that protects our economies,” Mr Sunak said.

“By combining our vast economic resources and expertise, we will grow our economies, create jobs and keep our people safe long into the future.”

HCA UK is the UK’s largest private healthcare company and operates four hospitals in London – including the city's largest, The Wellington Hospital – as well as a clinic in Manchester

This is HCA’s fourth joint venture with NHS England and its second outside of London. The group operates a private cancer centre in partnership with Guy’s Hospital’s at its London Bridge Hospital as well as a private clinic at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

But there are concerns that private investment in the NHS poses a risk to the public health sector.

HCA also operates a joint venture programme with its consultants, who can own equity stakes in the company and receive a share in the profits as a dividend. A 2022 report by the Centre for Health and Public Interest called for better “public understanding” of such programmes.

“There is a potential conflict of interest when NHS Trusts contract with the companies which are engaged in joint venture businesses with the trust's own medical consultants,” said the report, which found that 120 of HCA consultants with stakes in the company were also employed by the NHS.

“Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that the type of joint ventures that we have analysed pose any risks to patient safety, there is evidence that financial incentives [ …] have the potential to distort clinical decision making,” said the report.

Updated: June 07, 2023, 5:54 PM