Health Business, Policy

How tourism of a different kind could boost Cumbria’s NHS services

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By Pamela McGowan Health Reporter

Health tourism could bring top doctors and new investment to Cumbria, a senior consultant believes.
Suresh Rao, an orthopedic surgeon based in west Cumbria, is facilitating a discussion at a high-profile national conference in Carlisle next week.

The British Indian Orthopedic Society (BIOS) has chosen the city as the location of its annual conference, which starts on Friday – attracting more than 100 of the country’s leading orthopedic surgeons.

It will be the second time the event has been to Cumbria thanks to Mr Rao, who is chairman of the organising committee.

The agenda for the event ranges from the latest developments in surgery and technology to NHS recruitment and retention, global health and medical tourism. Mr Rao believes the latter could benefit Cumbria.

Having seen it work in countries such as Greece, he said patients combine a holiday with privately-funded medical tests and potentially surgery.

And he believes that the Lake District could have a similar appeal for those wanting to be treated and recover in a tranquil environment.

He said that such private clinics would attract top doctors, who could then also work in the local NHS – helping to address high profile recruitment problems in Cumbria, and particularly at the West Cumberland Hospital.

Mr Rao stressed that his vision would not compromise the local NHS, believing it would in fact help to secure key services for the future.

He stressed that the clinics would attract paying customers from other parts of the world as part of a wider health tourism industry.

He believes it would also benefit Cumbria’s visitor trade and attract new businesses to the area by raising the county’s profile.

Mr Rao said it could be a world first, and said plans to grow Carlisle Airport could prove a key factor in making it a reality.

He said the type of procedures they could offer would include joint replacements and eye surgery, with profits being ploughed back into the local area.

“This could be really positive. I believe it would bring money into the area. The local health economy needs to think differently,” he said.

Mr Rao stressed that the private work would be additional, rather than using any existing NHS capacity, and run by new staff.

He believes it would attract consultants who want to combine private practice with NHS work, as well as those looking for new training and research opportunities to further their careers while enjoying the rural lifestyle Cumbria can offer.

“We would attract people. There are a lot of different buttons we could be pressing. I think there is a market there. We need to talk about it,” he said.

Mr Rao said he has had informal conversations with Cumbria’s MPs about the issue, with mixed reactions, but believe the concept should be explored.

A wider discussion on health tourism will take place at the BIOS Cumbria 2017 conference, held at the Milton Hilltop Hotel.

BIOS was established in the UK to help raise educational standards of orthopedic and trauma surgery all over the world. The annual scientific conference attracts a national and global audience and is streamed online.

The Cumbrian event is being supported by the World Health Innovation Summit (WHIS), which is based in Carlisle and holds its own global summit in the city.

They are also linking with local businesses, community projects and charities to showcase some of the good work already happening in the area.

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