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Now is the time to celebrate the NHS on a global stage

25 June 2024


From the frontline of a revolution being fought in Burma, to the displacement camps of north-west Syria and the bustling cities of Nigeria, the expertise of NHS staff is in high demand.  

We in the UK might be concerned about the future of the NHS, but we are not the only ones. The NHS has long been a beacon of Universal Health Coverage around the world since its establishment in 1948, and it remains so today.  

The expertise of NHS staff is being shared in the form of training programmes, the development of education materials, and the delivery of medical advice using the internet which is deeply popular with NHS staff, as well as their counterparts overseas.  

In an Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by THET, 76% of NHS staff expressed a desire to share skills with their counterparts overseas. In this way, we can see how allowing busy NHS clinicians with busy day jobs to engage in global engagement is, counter intuitively, a way of retaining them in the NHS because the learning acquired globally motivates and informs their practice for the benefit of patients locally.  

THET has been at the forefront of catalysing this engagement for 36 of the 76 years the NHS has existed, using a model we term Health Partnerships. It is an approach that has been supported by all the major political parties across the UK, and by the NHS in England, Scotland and Wales with significant ODA funding starting in 2009. 

Health Partnerships are long-term Twinning arrangements between health institutions in the UK with their counterparts overseas which place an emphasis on the exchange of knowledge between participating staff over months and years. They bring an ever-evolving but laser-like attention to the quality of healthcare and they are a source of ideas and innovations which benefit the delivery of care both overseas and in the UK. As The Lancet observed in 2016, more people die in the world today due to poor quality health care, than die of lack of access to health care.  

The Health Partnership model is an approach applauded by the World Health Organization for its contribution to broader health system strengthening. Strategic and adapted to meet the priorities of participating institutions, NHS staff find they learn as well as teach when engaging in such partnerships. Over 150 NHS Trusts and Boards are engaged in work through Health Partnerships, as are all the major Royal Medical Colleges. 

In recent years, the Health Partnership approach has been further strengthened with the engagement of internationally recruited staff – the 1 in 5 NHS staff who report a non-British nationality and who connect us to over 200 health systems around the world. We have described such people as the Experts in Our Midst, the health diplomats who do so much to accelerate the flow of learning between health systems globally.  

That is why THET is arguing that whoever arrives in Government after the General Election should celebrate the role the NHS and its staff are playing on a global stage, committing to three clear steps: 

  1. Increase health spending as a proportion of the ODA budget and invest in supporting and strengthening the health and care workforce globally.  
  2. Mobilise UK expertise and harness diaspora knowledge through a new NHS Global with a greater focus on equitable global Health Partnerships. 
  3. Back the Health Partnerships approach as a mechanism for delivering better healthcare and strengthening the UK’s soft diplomacy across low and middle-income countries. 

The World Health Organization has reminded us that the world is off track to make significant progress toward Universal Health Coverage (Sustainable Development Goal target 3.8) by 2030. The UK, and most especially, the NHS, has an important contribution to make. 

This post was written by:

Ben Simms - CEO


  • Scovia Buyeka
    01 Jul 2024 07:28
    Thank you very much Ben for a brilliant blog. May God continue blessing you🙏
  • Primrose Magala
    28 Jun 2024 14:33
    Thank you Ben for a brilliant blog. Thank you for the high level advocacy and inspirational leadership. The UK-NHS' contribution to global health development, when fully realised will be a game changer. It requires all NHS leaders' buy in. With Eye Health Africa-UK and Ubora Foundation Africa Partnership, we are already seeing some of the incredible benefits thanks to a current THET funded project. The shared learning so far is life transforming on so many levels including professional development and positive community health transformation. Through our project, Retinopathy of Prematurity screening at Hoima Regional Referral Hospital, we are working together to support capacity development and the establishment of a ROP screening pathway, working in collaboration with the Neonatal Department. We hope this pathway will be adopted nationally.

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