The National Health Service is looking to make some extra funds from selling its knowledge and products to healthcare systems abroad, Health Secretary Andy Burnham has announced.

According to the government, the NHS is the largest publicly-funded health system in the world and “home to groundbreaking treatments, cutting edge research and a hub of innovation”, and this puts it in an ideal position to export its knowledge, skills and services to other countries for cash.

“Demand for NHS products and knowledge far outstrips supply,” Burnham said, and added that “a key part of responding to the economic challenge that the NHS faces will be realising the full potential of innovation, not only making effective use of our knowledge and skills at home, but also making money abroad that can be reinvested back into the NHS”.

NHS Global has been established to help organisations within the health service take advantage of the opportunities within the global healthcare market - which is already worth more than £4 trillion and quickly expanding – and generate extra revenues that can be sunk back into the NHS.

And the government is moving quickly to get the ball rolling on this, having already set out the functions of NHS Global, which include identifying commercial opportunities in the NHS, generating demand in international markets, brokering partnerships between NHS organisations and overseas customers and providing advice on intellectual property management.

In addition, the Department of Health says it has already begun work with organisations within the health service to bring products to market and is planning a consultation with staff over how to maximise benefits to patients, with a view to launching NHS Global sometime in the Summer.

Commenting on the role of the new group, Professor Lord Darzi, UK Global Health and Life Sciences Ambassador, noted the “significant international demand for NHS products and knowledge” and the importance of supporting NHS organisations to help them make the most of this opportunity. “Proper management of our knowledge and skills will create additional income to invest back into frontline services,” he said.

New research centre
Meanwhile, in further good news for the UK life sciences sector, Prime Minister Gordon Brown unveiled plans for a new world-class medical research centre at St Pancras in London.

The government will sink £250 million into the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, a partnership with Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, UCL and the Medical Research Council that will work closely with the NHS to tackle major medical challenges.

In addition, to help further realise the potential of the UK’s life sciences industries, the PM said he was “minded” to appoint in the next Parliament a Minister for Life Sciences for the first time, who will report to both the Secretaries of State for Business and Health.