London’s Harley Street Medical Area may have a rich history, but its future potential is just as fascinating. Venetia van Kuffeler talks to Simon Baynham, Property Director of The Howard de Walden Estate, about how things are changing in this world famous medical enclave
For a long time, the Harley Street Medical Area was defined by its past. Doctors began settling there in significant numbers in the late-nineteenth century, drawn by its convenient location and large stock of attractive Georgian townhouses. Harley Street became home to some of the great pioneers of modern medicine – it was a place where monarchs and heads of state sought treatment; a place that became firmly embedded in the public consciousness as a source of discrete, expert, but rather old-fashioned private medicine. A strong sense of heritage still exudes from Harley Street’s elegant period buildings, but this historic reputation no longer does justice to what has become a rapidly evolving centre of medical excellence. Today, the most interesting aspect of the Harley Street Medical Area is not what happened in the past, but what will happen in the future.
The vast majority of the medical properties on and around Harley Street are owned by the area’s historic landowner, The Howard de Walden Estate. In recent decades, the Estate has become known for the highly strategic, long-term approach it has taken to shaping its retail, residential and commercial offerings. The same is now very much true of its relationship with the Medical Area.
“As the custodians of the Harley Street Medical Area, we are committing a significant amount of time and money to ensure that the medical community here has everything it needs to evolve as the twenty-first century progresses,” says Simon Baynham, Property Director of The Howard de Walden Estate. “Medicine is moving very quickly, both in terms of the technological and clinical advances being made, and the questions that are being raised by an ageing population and increasingly stretched resources. What role will private medicine play in the UK in decades to come? What new treatments and specialisms will be required that the Harley Street Medical Area can help to provide? It is vitally important that we are tuned in to the changing face of healthcare and that we are constantly laying foundations for the future.”
In recent years, the Estate has been increasingly active in shaping the area’s clinical offering. “Rather than take a laissez faire approach to letting out our medical properties, we have been carefully identifying those specialisms that could really add something to the mix, seeking out the top players in those areas, and then working with them to provide world-class facilities, tailored to their needs.” In recent years, this has seen the arrival in the Harley Street Medical Area of specialists at the very forefront of their fields: Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals, the London Claremont Clinic, Isokinetic (sports injury clinic) and Optegra (eye health). The Estate is also attuned to the future needs of its long established and highly regarded hospitals, including The London Clinic, King Edward VII’s Hospital and several HCA institutions, so works closely with them to ensure they can grow and adapt as the demands on them change.
So, what of the future? The Estate will continue with its strategic, hands-on approach, but with an increased emphasis on the provision of treatments that represent the leading edge of medicine. Work has already begun on Advanced Oncotherapy’s proton beam therapy unit on Harley Street – the UK’s first centre for this highly innovative form of cancer treatment – and this cutting-edge facility will set the template for future arrivals. “Over the coming decade, the Estate is going to be working closely with its existing tenants, as well as seeking out new ones, to ensure that the treatments they can offer here are not just of the highest quality, but are also distinctive and pioneering,” says Simon.
There is also likely to be a marked increase in the number of patients accessing the Harley Street Medical Area from overseas. Currently, the UK’s private healthcare sector accounts for less than 1 per cent of the global medical tourism market, trailing far behind countries as diverse as the United States, Thailand, Singapore, Germany, South Korea and Spain. And yet this meagre market share stands in stark contrast to the stellar quality of the medical services available. The Medical Tourism Index, compiled by the International Healthcare Research Centre, an American non-profit organisation, rates the world’s top destinations for medical tourists using a formula that considers both the standard of treatments available and the broader environment. The UK is currently ranked second, just behind Canada.
It is clear from these numbers that the UK’s relative underperformance in the global healthcare market has nothing to do with the quality of its offering and is instead a product of its outlook historically being somewhat insular. As the country’s largest and most advanced centre of private medical excellence, the Harley Street Medical Area could and probably should enjoy a far greater profile internationally, and the coming decade will see steps being taken to address that disparity.
“Over the past few years, we’ve started to become far more global in our outlook,” says Simon. “We’ve been travelling far more widely, making connections, telling our story. Our hospitals and clinics are playing a very active part, which is vitally important: for this year’s Arab Health conference – the second that we’ve attended – the Harley Street Medical Area delegation included representatives from more than 20 world-class medical institutions, the impact of which is extremely strong.”
Collective marketing efforts such as this are likely to intensify, while many of the individual hospitals and clinics will also continue to build closer ties with the rest of the world. Already, Harley Street Medical Area institutions are offering training to international partners, and in some instances are building overseas facilities that allow them to offer ‘care in country’ as part of their wider offering.
Over the next decade, the Harley Street Medical Area’s international outlook will be bolstered by the evolution of a more coordinated offering, better suited to the international market and more actively and coherently promoted. Unlike many of its peers around the world, the Harley Street Medical Area does not exist within a purpose-built out-of-town campus. Nor has it ever had any form of centralised administration. Instead, it is made up of a disparate collection of institutions, located right in the centre of one of Europe’s biggest cities – a situation that creates both challenges and opportunities.
Harley Street’s location offers some significant benefits to international patients and their families: easy accessibility from almost anywhere in the world, as well as the presence of high quality hotels, restaurants, parks and cultural venues. But for visitors to be able to make the necessary plans for treatments, travel, accommodation and leisure, greater coordination is required. The Estate has recently launched a Harley Street Medical Area website, providing a comprehensive directory, and publishes a printed periodical – Prognosis – which offers more in-depth information. The creation of a full concierge service for patients is being actively explored, and it would not be a surprise if future developments included a hotel designed specifically for visitors undergoing treatments.
“It has been said in the past that the Harley Street Medical Area is like a vast hospital, with fantastic facilities and top doctors, but no reception area or signposts. Here at the Estate, providing those basic services that make accessing treatment easier has become a major focus,” says Simon.
Harley Street’s rich history will remain a source of great pride and inspiration both for the Estate and for the clinicians who practice there. But this is an area that intends to be even more relevant to the medicine of the twenty-first century than it was to the medicine of the nineteenth and twentieth.