The UK's healthcare sector strives to provide excellent service to its people while improving standards of treatment through funding and research worldwide.

The healthcare sector in the United Kingdom has been in the news for numerous reasons ranging from its pioneering efforts in clinical research to the drive to increase funding to the National Health Service (NHS) – the backbone of the country's health system. Doctors, researchers and other members of the medical fraternity in the UK have also gained international acclaim for their work in areas such as keyhole surgery, trauma care, cancer treatment and research and stem cell research, among others.

The reason for their reputation, says Dr Ann Hughes – a UK-trained periodontist, who is based in Dubai and works at the British Dental Clinic – stems from the UK's excellent tradition of quality education and the strong emphasis on research.

"These factors have not just created medical professionals with a high calibre but also attracted some of the best talent from other countries, who go there to pursue post graduate studies in medicine or research," she says.

Dr Makki Shuker – an ENT consultant with the Dubai London Clinic, who has practiced medicine in the UK for 30 years – agrees with Hughes on the quality of education being a prime factor for making the UK's healthcare sector one of the best in the world. "The doctors and nurses go through excellent training programmes that are extensive, thorough and well supervised.

Medical professionals continue to go through intensive training even after they graduate. This form of training is standardised across the UK so regardless of the region in the country that you seek treatment you will get the same quality of care," says Shuker.

Teaching hospitals play a huge role in educating and supporting top grade medical professionals from the UK and overseas. The UK has several renowned teaching hospitals, some of which are in London. These include the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust (GOSH), Barts and The London NHS Trust, Kings College Hospital NHS Trust; Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust and Saint George's Healthcare NHS Trust, among others. Denise McCormack, General Manager of the Gulf office, GOSH, says the big teaching hospitals in the UK have always been international in their outlook and endeavour to recruit
outstanding talent from around the world.

Hughes says that there are stringent regulations that help maintain the quality of care provided. "Doctors have to put in a number of stipulated hours in addition to updating themselves with the latest developments in their field, and all of this is monitored by the general medical council and the general dental council (for dental professionals). This works in favour of both the doctor and the patients," she says.

It's this focus on patients – their safety, interest and care – that has been the driving force behind the NHS. Shuker says that the NHS offers quality healthcare services without a bias, a problem that is often linked to the private sector.

Preferred destination

The NHS is also a preferred destination for doctors and nurses who want to gain a better understanding of their specific areas. Hughes, who worked as lecturer and researcher at Guys Hospital before she came to Dubai, says that even doctors in the private sector prefer to put in hours in NHS hospitals in addition to their private practice to increase their experience.

However, it is not just the quality of doctors and nurses that make the NHS noteworthy. McCormack says that most healthcare in the country is delivered by the tax funded NHS, without any reference to a family's ability to pay. "Treatment is generally free at the point of care although some charges are made, with some exemptions, for dentistry, drugs and some appliances. The NHS has changed in many ways over the years but many still strongly support the principle of a national service, which provides free treatment to everyone,"
she says.

Funds, say both Huges and Shuker, are part of the challenge facing the NHS. Shuker says that providing advanced surgeries and buying and purchasing state-of-the-art medical equipment is an expensive proposition and is taking its toll on the NHS. Other problems include patients, especially those seeking dental treatment, having to queue up to get the care they require, says Hughes. "The NHS does not have enough dentists. This lack of availability often leads to long waiting periods for patients. In some cases, patients cannot wait too long and have to seek private medical care to address the problem," she says.

Increased funding

The government is working at solving these issues, and has allocated an increase in funding to the NHS to the tune of four per cent (less than the body has had since 2000) for the next three years. Publicly funded medical research, which has been a priority for the healthcare sector, will also get a boost considering that the budget of the Medical Research Council (MRC) has been increased from £543 million (about Dh3.95 billion) in 2007-08 to £707 million (about Dh5.15 billion) in 2010-11 (source: Times Online report, October 2007).

This volume of funding, which is one of the highest among the country's peers will help push the cause of medical research. In addition, the government's 10-year 'Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014' will help make the UK the best place in the world for health research, development and innovation. The NHS, in particular, is playing an important role in increasing the country's profile in research globally. The country's efforts in areas such as cancer research are impressive.

A report from the Department of Health states that the UK now has the highest national per capita rate of cancer trial participation in the world.

The report stated that £450 million (about Dh3.28 billion) has been invested in 11 new biomedical research centres that will investigate major causes of illness and death such as cancer, heart disease, asthma, HIV, mental illness, blindness, childhood diseases and ageing. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is also commissioning more research through new programmes and world renowned research centres.

Government funding to the tune of £42 million (about Dh306.2 million) has also been announced for research in areas such as childhood obesity, infant mortality and keeping children safe in the home.

According to the Department of Health, the NIHR is commissioning more research through the NHS's new and expanded programmes and world class research centres. The UK's Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo also reiterated the government's commitment to health research by saying that public funding for health research will rise to £1.7 billion (about Dh12.39 billion), with ring-fenced funding for the National Institute for Health Research of £1 billion (about Dh7.28 billion) by 2010-11.

The UK, home to some of the most important pharmaceutical companies, including giants such as AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, and biotechnology companies, is also one of the global leaders in pharmaceutical R&D investment.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) states that more than 30 per cent of the pharmaceutical industry's sales income is re-invested in pharma-based research and development. In fact, a brief from UK Trade and Investment, a government body that promotes trade and investment opportunities, attributes the discovery and development of a quarter of the world's top 100 to the UK.

The sector is working hard at creating medicines to treat diseases such Alzheimer's. A report from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) states that the global pharmaceutical industry is researching nearly 260 medicines to treat Alzheimer's disease with scientists from the UK contributing a major effort to the cause.

Around 20 UK-based companies are engaged in research in this area. The country's researchers are also helping to develop nearly a fifth of the world's potential new medicines for diseases that cause breathing difficulties.

Top notch and research and development centres, skilled staff and the clinical infrastructure provided by the NHS are all factors that have helped the country gain significant success in creating drugs that save millions of lives all over the world.

The UAE, in particular, stands to gain from the medical know-how of the UK. Shuker and Hughes believe that the UAE could gain immensely from adopting the system of medical education and training that the UK has.

The UAE will also benefit from getting quality healthcare from hospitals and medical professionals from the UK. Hughes says that the launch of the Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) will definitely motivate some of the UK's best hospitals to set up branches here.

For instance, AstraZeneca, one of the world's top pharmaceutical companies and a UK-based company, is present in DHCC. Great Ormond Street Hospital, which treats more than 3,000 children from the Gulf in London annually, has also set up a branch in DHCC. Their administrative office was officially opened by the Duke of York in January 2006.

McCormack says that the office was opened initially to act as a liaison between referring bodies, clinicians and families who could then go to GOSH London for treatment in addition to making provisions for consultant visiting programmes to the Gulf.

"Benefits to the programme include the establishment of personal relationships and direct communication between the treating medical teams, and sharing knowledge and expertise linked to specific aspects of paediatric healthcare," she says.

Moorfields Eye Hospital, one of the world's most prominent specialist eye care institutions is also scheduled to open a private branch in the DHCC. Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai is a commercial venture between Tatweer, a subsidiary of Dubai Holding, and the UK's Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The hospital aims to become one of the leading centres for eye care in the region.

Medical professionals

Several clinics such as the Dubai London Clinic and the British Dental Clinic in addition to a growing community of UK-trained medical professionals in the UAE also offer quality medical services.

Hughes says that with the UAE, and especially Dubai, becoming an international hub, the country is attracting very good doctors in all areas of specialty.

This trend will only gain momentum making quality medical care available in the UAE. The UK, on the other hand, can cash in on what is one of their most valuable exports – medical expertise.