Few international markets offer such huge opportunities for UK companies as the rapidly expanding health sector in China.

Now, the British Government is stepping up its drive to promote stronger links between the healthcare sectors in the UK and China.asia-opportunity Behind the initiative has been China’s announcement of priorities including developing a world-class hospital infrastructure, caring for older people, developing the healthcare workforce and delivering reform through digital health. According to a report on the situation by Healthcare UK, outside of the major cities, the healthcare infrastructure in China is in urgent need of modernisation.

Healthcare UK, a joint initiative between UK Trade & Investment, theDepartment of Health and the NHS in England, was established to link UK expertise with the healthcare requirements of countries around the world. To that end, December 2013, saw the signing by the UK and Chinese health ministers of two significant Memoranda of Understanding between the UK Department of Health and the National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China.

In addition, Healthcare UK signed MoUs with the International Health Exchange and Co-operation Centre of the Ministry of Health and the Health Bureau of Zhejiang Province which identify a number of areas for collaboration aimed at strengthening partnerships between the country’s respective health sectors. Other UK organisations signed MoUs with Chinese private and public companies paving the way for increased trade between our two countries
There is a big need for such expertise. Conditions that have traditionally been common in the West, but not in China, are increasing. Cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and the growing elderly population in China are all placing great demands on the service.

To tackle the challenge, the Chinese government is working to enable coordinated delivery of world class hospitals, in the right locations; 90% of interactions with doctors take place in hospitals in China, in contrast to the UK where 90% of interactions are in the primary care setting. Through the development of consortia that will bring together the NHS and the private sector, the UK is applying its long healthcare experience for the benefit of Chinese hospital owners, patients and staff. For example, in late 2013, UK Prime Minister David Cameron MP met Sinophi Healthcare Chairman Simon MacKinnon and senior government officials from Huai’an City in Jiangsu Province in East China in support of deals worth £120 million between Sinophi and Huai’an City, Jiangsu Province. These included a joint venture for hospital management with Huai’an First People’s Hospital (HAFPH), and two agreements for a hospital acquisition and to build a 1,000 bed regional oncology centre in Huai’an City.

Prime Minister Cameron said “This deal highlights the enormous opportunity that the Chinese healthcare market presents for British healthcare firms – set to grow by $400 billion by 2017. I hope we will see many more partnerships and deals like this for British businesses in this market.” UK expertise is also useful when it comes to creating high quality services for the older person and their family. Due to an increase in life expectancy and fewer births per capita, China’s elderly population will grow substantially in the coming years, with studies estimating a third of the population being over 60 by 2050. China’s Twelfth Five Year Plan (2011- 2015) proposed the expansion of care for older people, targeting in-home care as well as residential, doubling the number of government residential home beds and establishing Management Centres responsible for guidance and monitoring care providers in each region. As a result, China needs 10 million nursing home beds and an elderly care workforce of 10 million. The government expects the beds to meet the needs of about 3% of the population with 7% cared for in residential settings and the majority continuing to be cared for at home.

China also estimates it requires at least 450,000 more nurses by 2015 to bring the total up to 2.86 million. The NHS and the UK private sector has the expertise required to meet the care needs of people as they become more dependant and the health needs of people suffering from dementia, diabetes, respiratory, heart disease and orthopaedic problems increase. A range of UK operators are already working in China. For example, EC Harris was appointed as a strategic advisor for the development of new health and senior care facilities in Dalian in late 2012. And Heythorp Healthcare and Jiangsu Far East (Yadong) signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a joint venture to develop a flagship, mixed use healthcare facility which will include elderly nursing, specialist dementia services and care training outside Jiangsu. IXICO has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Beijing Union Medical and Pharmaceutical General Corporation to work together to support dementia diagnosis, advance public understanding of dementia and evaluate new treatments.

When it comes to developing a skilled workforce, the UK is home to four of the world’s top 10 universities for clinical, pre-clinical and health subjects and can offer a range of training courses. One institution already making a difference is CHECK, which consists of ten UK universities who have joined together so that any collaborative healthcare opportunity from China can be met effectively. UK universities with branch campuses established in China include University of Nottingham at Ningbo, Liverpool University with Xian Jiaotong University and The Shanghai British University College which represents nine UK Universities. Digital technology is also viewed as important as China needs to improve its data collection to enable better patient management. With China’s ‘35212’ project providing the framework for cooperation, the UK’s digital health community can make a significant and positive impact in this collaboration, according to Healthcare UK.

Howard Lyons, Managing Director, Healthcare UK, said in the organisation’s most report report: “China and the UK share many goals. These include providing high quality healthcare for all citizens, planning and delivering services for the rapidly growing elderly population, and adapting services to manage the rising burden of non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, respiratory conditions, cancer and dementia. “The changing healthcare needs of our respective populations are placing enormous demands on our health systems and infrastructure. The healthcare reforms initiated by China seek to develop a system providing “safe, effective, convenient and affordable” healthcare to both rural and urban residents by 2020.Having established near-universal insurance coverage, improving the quality and choice of healthcare services is a priority for China in 2013-2017. “Many of the areas of focus for the reforms such as improved service delivery, more effective public health and better hospital management, correspond with areas of expertise within the UK’s National Health Service and its commercial healthcare sector. “What the NHS and its commercial partners offer is unique in both its quality and breadth, drawing on long experience of running the world’s largest integrated health system. Now for the first time, through Healthcare UK, organisations in China are able to access the know-how this investment has created for the benefit of patients and their families.”