Big name British hospitals like Great Ormond Street and the Royal Marsden are to be encouraged to export the NHS "brand" abroad - setting up services in foreign countries in order to earn cash for the health service.
NHS hospitals have been invited by the Government to set up the profit-making branches abroad as part of a radical joint scheme set to be launched by the Department of Health and UK Trade and Industry, aiming to build links between hospitals wishing to expand and foreign governments which want access to British health services.
According to reports in the Independent, hospitals will only be able to use money raised via private patients to set up hospitals abroad and any profits made in foreign countries would be channelled back to the UK.
Health Minister Anne Milton said the aim was to capitalise on the NHS's "world class reputation" for the benefit of patients and taxpayers.
Labour, who began the initiative in 2010 with then Health Secretary Andy Burnham's NHS Global project, has criticised the coalition's plans to expand.
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."
The proposal was reportedly inspired by hospitals in America, including Baltimore's John Hopkins, ranked as the best hospital in America for 21 years. The hospital opened a medical school and hospital in Malaysia in 2011.
The Gulf is believed to be a key area for hospitals to target.
Moorfields Eye Hospital already operates in Dubai and Imperial has two diabetes centres in Abu Dhabi.
Great Ormond Street also has an agreement with the government of Kuwait to provide expert clinical advice to doctors in the country.
Health Minister Anne Milton 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.
"This is also good news for the economy, which will benefit from the extra jobs and revenue created by our highly successful life sciences industries as they trade more across the globe."
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, told the Independent: "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."
A new government project, Healthcare UK, will matchmake between British hospitals and foreign governments, liaising with British trade representatives at foreign embassies.
The board is said to be recruiting a managing director at a salary of £100,000.
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