NHS organisations are being encouraged to ‘twin’ with hospitals in countries like China as part of an effort by the government to help them secure international business deals.

Howard Lyons, the chief executive of Healthcare UK, a UK trade and industry body, has also pledged to draft new guidelines to help hospital trusts open up new income streams by offering advice to their counterparts oversees.

“We want to set in place guidance once the next election is out of the way [so that] NHS England will be able to give clear direction [to trusts] and say to them, ‘Yes it is ok for you to grow your business, including in international work’,” he added.

Mr Lyons said Healthcare UK  would use this year to “lay the foundations” of the guidance.

It also wants more trusts to twin with hospitals overseas, Mr Lyons added, pointing towards Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, which signed a memorandum of understanding with the King Hussein Cancer Foundation in Amman, Jordan last November.

Mr Lyons said he wanted every NHS trust to be engaged in some form of international business within ten years.

“We foresee a time after the next election when eventually every NHS organisation will be sharing its know how internationally,” he added.

“There are countries around the world that would love to send patients to the UK. It’s not going to cost anything for patients to come to an NHS trust for treatment and it’ not going to disadvantage home treatment either.”

Healthcare UK had begun drawing on the experise of the academic health science networks to help establish current levels of commercial activity by NHS trusts.

The networks were conducting “baseline reviews”, to establish the total amount of international commercial activity carried out by NHS trusts.

The first to have completed such a study is the north west coast network.

A spokeswoman for the network said it has identified a dozen organisations in its region undertaking some form of international activity and that two others were “exploring possibilities”.