Universities and the NHS can collaborate to produce highly-trained healthcare professionals, say experts

Out-Law Analysis | 29 Aug 2016 | 12:23 pm | 2 min. read

FOCUS: UK universities and NHS bodies can work together to increase the number of highly-trained healthcare professionals operating around the world, and enhance their own reputations and revenues at the same time.

Historically in the UK, collaborations between universities and the NHS have been primarily focused on clinical research, but we are now seeing greater scope for collaboration on education and training.

We’re seeing UK universities wanting to expand overseas, including developing programmes in partnership with other organisations or universities overseas. This gives international students the opportunity to come and study in the UK, whilst UK students can benefit from opportunities to undertake part or all of their studies at overseas partner institutions. There is greater regulation around medical education and so partnering opportunities must be carefully evaluated to ensure the quality of provision.

NHS trusts too are starting to realise that their expertise can bring in much-needed revenue as they struggle with financial deficit. Many trusts are at the start of their journeys and don’t want to be sending consultants overseas full time. They want to dip their toe in internationalisation and see education as a quick win. Essentially, they want to team up with overseas hospitals and offer some training and education, both in overseas locations but also here in the UK and via digital mediums.

At the moment there are few trusts doing clinical services or hospital management, with the exception being the larger names like Kings and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Trust. Once they begin to build those relationships they will evolve and expand.

NHS trusts can get quite nervous about running a hospital overseas or providing clinical services to overseas patients in NHS hospitals. There is a misconception that such projects involve taking NHS consultants away to run a hospital overseas. This simply isn’t the case.

However, there are visa restrictions in the UK for non EU students who want to come to Britain to study and the effect of Brexit on EU students is not yet clear. Fee income from international students is crucial to the growth and sustainability of UK universities and so universities are looking carefully at opportunities to establish operations overseas to meet the international demand for UK higher education and grow their brand and, hopefully, income. Projects currently under consideration include collaborative programmes with a private or academic partner through to joint medical schools.

In the UK we still have a need to improve our healthcare education and to get the right numbers of people trained here. There are many countries that need better healthcare education. Generally there’s a massive shortage worldwide of healthcare professionals or properly trained healthcare professionals. It’s very easy to build a new hospital, but staffing a new facility can be a massive issue because there are not enough highly trained professionals.

Having an education provider alongside a healthcare provider makes perfect sense to ensure the success of a facility. There are projects to develop medical campuses that now involve a hospital, an education provider and other healthcare organisations.

We also need to see greater collaboration in relation to all medical career pathways to meet the demands of the evolving NHS. Such collaboration is commonplace within the NHS, however, with universities competing amongst each other for students, it can be more challenging to try to bring them together in a consortium arrangement. To meet the demand for the healthcare professionals of tomorrow this spirit of collaboration should be harnessed and the potential for joint healthcare and education projects explored.

The parties to any proposed collaboration should recognise that from the outset they may have different objectives. These need to be carefully considered and aligned with contracts. The collaborative structure also needs to take into account the responsibilities of each of the parties and how any income is shared, reinvested or brought back into the UK. With advice, collaborations can be structured to meet different objectives in the most tax and operationally efficient way.

Gayle Ditchburn and Louise Fullwood are experts in education and healthcare contracting at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. A version of this article was previously published in Global Opportunity Healthcare Education 2016.