With everything from ‘smart’ cities to financial transactions being upgraded in India thanks to PM Narendra Modi’s modernisation drive, opportunities abound for UK firms. IoD member Howard Lyons, chair of The Indo UK Institute of Health, is part of an enterprise aiming to bring “the best of the NHS” to India. He explains the challenges and possibilities in trading in the world’s fastest growing major economy
The dancing nurses and bouncing-bed patients of the NHS tribute section in Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony had an unwitting effect: it ignited interest in the National Health Service, turning it into a global brand, triggering opportunities to promote the model across the world.
It’s also indirectly spawned one of the world’s largest healthcare initiatives, currently taking place in India. The Indo UK Institute of Health (IUIH) aims to bring NHS-style “available, affordable, accountable healthcare” to 400million Indians via 11 Medicity sites (medical-mini-metropolises comprising a 1,000-bed-hospital, medical and nursing colleges, and R&D centres) over the next ten years.
It’s estimated each Medicity will generate 5,000 direct jobs and 25,000 indirect employment opportunities.
Initially, the plan was to build just one Medicity. But such is the bullish pace of modernisation in India, when prime minister Narendra Modi met then-UK prime minister David Cameron in 2015 to discuss the deal, the Indian government’s response was unflinching. “Why do one Medicity? Why not 11?”
For the IUIH’s independent non-executive director Howard Lyons – currently the organisation’s chair – bringing NHS-level expertise to emerging economies was nothing new: he’d spent 30 years in international healthcare, including three as MD of Healthcare UK.
But even he was surprised by the project’s scale. “Just building one Medicity is a challenge, but 11 of them?!”
The IUIH is currently negotiating with medical equipment manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, which it hopes can part-fund the project, in return for supplying equipment, and establishing manufacturing plants.
The first Medicity is currently being built in a 151-acre plot in an industrial zone in the ‘smart’ city of Nagpur in Maharashtra, India’s wealthiest state. Although the Medicities will largely be for private customers, 20 per cent of the “NHS-quality” beds will be available to patients unable to pay for their treatment.
Each Medicity will be developed with an NHS trust, with King’s College Hospital partnering in Nagpur. Plans are also afoot for employee exchange programmes, where medical staff from India working in the NHS and vice versa.
As Lyons says: “It’s even more crucial, post-Brexit, given the NHS has shortages in different specialities, plus it’s a great opportunity for NHS staff to enrich their experience/knowledge by working in India.”
It’s also hoped the UK’s 40,000 doctors of Indian origin will support the project.
A PwC report recently identified the Nagpur Medicity as having potential to turn into a “medical tourism hub”, thanks an increasingly affluent population and proposed new airline routes linking Nagpur to Singapore and Dubai.
Indeed, one Grant Thornton study found India’s medical tourism industry could reach $8bn by 2020.
According to Lyons, the project has experienced few bureaucratic problems (“operating at a government-to-government level certainly helps”).
But he has been impressed at the alacrity at which Indians want to operate: “We were originally thinking a three-year program for the first 250 beds. Instead, they want us to complete 250 beds by the end of 2019, with a complete Medicity within eight years…
“If there ever comes a time when NHS is booming and has the budget it needs, we think there is plenty of opportunity for NHS expertise to be shared around the world, and particularly in India.”