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‘NHS waiting times can be slashed by getting surgeries done in India’

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NHS waiting times for operations could be slashed drastically if patients had their elective surgeries done at worldclass hospitals in India.

This was one of the radical ideas put forward last Tuesday (19) by senior Indian corporate leaders at a business conference in London.

Another was for undergraduates and postgraduates from Britain to study at Indian universities and afterwards gain work experience at successful companies in India – the reverse of what is happening now.

These and other proposals were put forward at the recommencement of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) UK India Business Forum (IBF), which seeks to promote the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

The conference took placed at the Indian-owned Lalit Hotel overlooking the Thames by Tower Bridge.

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It was addressed by Chandrajit Banerjee, the CII’s director general who had flown into London for a few hours.

“The CII is just about 128 years old,” he said. “And today in India, we have 70 odd offices. And we have been operating in the UK with an office for 43 years. And we have another 12 offices across the world.”

He described the gathering, which brings together the Indian and UK corporate worlds, as “IBF 2.0”. The CII UK IBF was first launched in 2009.

Banerjee, an old hand when it comes to bilateral UK-India relations, said the CII was involved in advising the Indian government over the Free Trade Agreement with Britain. “We work with the private sector to see how we can make Indian companies more competitive, both in India and overseas.

“The UK IBF is an exclusive group of corporate members, primarily Indian companies with existing or planned operations in the United Kingdom. With IBF 2.0, the platform provides an opportunity to raise shared concerns about policy and markets with relevant stakeholders. The CII UK IBF has undertaken some important initiatives in the past and some of its recommendations have been positively viewed by the UK government.”

The Indian high commissioner, Vikram Doraiswami, spoke of student exchanges: “A lot of young Indians are coming here to study or to look at opportunities to get skills and maybe go on elsewhere in the world to create new businesses.”

He wondered: “Why are we not doing it the other way around?”

He set out the context: “Our universities have partnerships. The top universities in the UK and the top universities in India are already beating a path to each other. This is the obvious glue that will bring them together.”

The high commissioner added: “Imagine an opportunity in which young Britons travel for a semester (to India), facilitated by the university to university partnership. And then through the mechanism of the IBF are connected for a couple of months to do an internship, or a working opportunity at an Indian company that is invested in the UK, but also has production facilities in India. That offers a chance for young people to look at being part of not just the India growth story, but also in investing in being employees of Indian companies in the UK in future.”

Doraiswami said: “From the towels used in the centre court in Wimbledon, to the Jaguar Land Rover cars that ministers and royalty here drive, from hotels to technology companies, there is hardly any sphere in the UK that is not touched by the India relationship.”

He estimated that 80 per cent of the Covid jabs from the Serum Institute of India were finished off at the Indianowned Wockhardt plant in Wales.

The high commissioner was disappointed in one respect. The average person in Britain was unaware of the contributions made by 954 companies from India that has invested in the UK.

Doraiswami said more needed to be done to give these companies a higher profile: “Most of us coming from India are essentially convinced that there is one country outside our region that really, really knows India. It must be this one (UK). But sadly, that is not the reality of the UK today.”

Ravi Limaye, who has been CEO of Wockhardt since 2019, said the Indian pharma giant had built up a harmonious relationship with the people of Wales by recruiting its employees locally.

He took a more optimistic view: “I will say that there’s one country which understands India better than many other countries in the world. It is the UK.”

On the proposed UK-India Free Trade Agreement, he said: “I would imagine that this trade deal, wherever it happens, will be a tremendous opportunity for both countries. In particular, I would like to highlight a few areas where probably there could be a lot of benefits.

“I see IT because that’s the cornerstone of Indian economic growth for the last several years, followed by pharmaceuticals. One-third of all medicines prescribed by the NHS come from India. I will also add the healthcare sector, which has penetrated the generic space in the global markets, particularly so in the US.” He added: “In the UK, we have done well, but we can do a lot better.”

He suggested sending NHS patients to India: “We all hear about waiting times in the NHS. (In India) we have some worldclass healthcare facilities. Is there a possibility of synergy between India and UK where people could go to India and get treated for elective surgeries – and thereby help in reducing waiting times? It is a tremendous opportunity, both for the welfare of patients as well as driving business.”

The keynote address was delivered by Keshav Murugesh, the new chairman of the CII UK IBF and also group CEO of WNS, a multinational business process management company.

He spoke of advances in India: “To give you a sense of the progress of technology in India, by 2025, almost 50 per cent revenue generated from India will be digital. That’s a huge statement. The second thing is last year India filed the largest number of patents ever (in the world) – that’s 40,000 technology patents.”

He reckoned that in the next few years, “40 per cent of the UK workforce would have to either upskill or reskill”.

And in this effort, India could help. Murugesh made the same point as the high commissioner on students exchange. He said: “One of the things prime minister (Narendra) Modi has already been talking about recently is about India jumping to the third largest economy in the world. And what better way than have UK students starting to travel to India – not just to study – but actually to work in Indian companies and learn the ways of success. They would be making this huge leap forward.”

He also said: “This is a crucial time for both countries to extend cooperation in critical areas such as trade and investment, technology and innovation, climate action, the future of work, skills and education. By collaborating with the UK government, local businesses and academia, the UK IBF will strategically support Indian companies and champion ‘Brand India’ in the UK.

“Last, but definitely not the least, with 954 Indian companies operating in the UK, generating revenues of around £50.5 billion and employing over 105,000 people, and 635 British companies in India, employing nearly 667,000 individuals, it’s clear we are building not just businesses but a shared future. These figures are more than data — they are testimony to the efforts by both countries. Today, we stand on the cusp of a new dawn heralded by India’s remarkable growth story.”

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