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Since the days when Sir Frederick Treves, the 19th century surgeon who cared for the "Elephant Man", made his home in the Harley Street/Wimpole Street area, "Harley Street" has become synonymous with effective (but expensive) private healthcare.  

According to our HarleyStreet.com, database there are now over 1,500 Consultants with a nameplate outside an address in the square mile. And that's just the medical and surgical specialists. Add in the dentists, the therapists, the complementary practitioners  and others who ply their trade, and you have a concentration of healthcare expertise that probably cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

But is the attraction of Harley Street on the wane? Is it under threat from competition from within London, from further afield in the UK and from overseas? And how will it fight back?

Investing in London's private healthcare

Recent announcements highlight the investments that are being made in private healthcare in London. London continues to be a major attraction for UK and international patients and for those seeking to extend their services to this sector. However, much of the investment is going outside of the Harley Street area, creating more options for consultants looking for somewhere to base their private practice. 

The Howard de Walden Estate which is the landlord for the 90 acres around Harley Street is undertaking a £200m programme of investment in the refurbishment of its properties, some of which will benefit medical facilities in the Harley Street area. 

Meanwhile major investments in London's private healthcare sector are taking place elsewhere in London. HCA Hospitals have recently taken over Levels 4, 5, 6 of The Shard. The new centre provides an outpatient and diagnostics centre, 78 consulting rooms,12 treatment rooms, and MRI and CT scanning facilities. 215 consultants will be seeing their patients at the Shard, well away from Harley Street that might have been their favoured location in the past.  The Shard is part of HCA's commitment to invest £300m in private healthcare facilities in the UK over next five years. Will this investment be concentrated on its Central London presence or elsewhere in London or the UK? 

In West London, VPS Healthcare Group have acquired the Royal Masonic Hospital in Hammersmith and announced plans for the 2017 opening of a new cancer centre with a bed capacity of 150 and incorporating Proton Beam Therapy.  The group, one of the leading healthcare providers in the Middle East and India, intends to invest £150 million in the new facility.

The Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic has announced the signing of a long-term lease on a 198,000-square foot six-story office building at 33 Grosvenor Place in Belgravia, again away from London's traditional home of private healthcare. It says that it is still evaluating what kind of health care services it will provide in the building.

Competition in the international market

In the international healthcare market, medical travel destinations such as Turkey and Malaysia are aggressively pursuing the source markets for Harley Street's traditional international patient flows. Government sponsors in key markets such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman are becoming more cost conscious and seeking better value for money, as oil revenues slow and put pressure on government expenditure. Developments such as Dubai Healthcare City in UAE pose a threat by diverting potential medical travellers from the Gulf States to seek treatment within their own region. German hospitals are collaborating to strengthen their presence in the Gulf markets through initiatives such as the Bavaria International Health Association .

These are interesting times for Harley Street. Will the Harley Street nameplate have the same attraction for the up and coming London consultant, or will a view from the Shard take its place?

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About the author

Keith Pollard is CEO of Intuition Communication, an online publisher in the healthcare sector that operates market-leading web portals such as Private Healthcare UK, the Harley Street Guide, HarleyStreet.com and Surgery Door. Intuition is also active in the online medical travel sector through Treatment Abroad, International Medical Travel Journal and DoctorInternet, the Arabic medical tourism portal. View www.keithpollard.com for my full profile.

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