The United Kingdom's nationwide health insurance scheme, the National Health Service (NHS,) will outsource hundreds of clerical jobs to India, according to an announcement on Thursday.
This affirms that despite some recent publicity to the contrary, Indian call centres are still well-regarded in the United Kingdom.
The recent report that Norwich Union, which had outsourced a significant number of its activities to India three years ago, was recalling 150 positions from the centres dealing with insurance claims thus does not seem to be part of a trend.
Nor is it to be interpreted as signalling a reverse flow. Outsourcing by Britain to India is set to cross last year's revenue of $6.3 billion (Rs 53,500 crore), said a banker.
Indeed other government departments encouraged by Prime Minister Tony Blair and reportedly by Chancellor Gordon Brown as well, are said to be considering following the NHS move.
British banks, the National Railways, British Telecommunications and several other financial institutions have already outsourced to India in a big way, because of the competitive edge they get in global trading by cutting their costs.
Peter Coates, deputy director of finance at the Department of Health, hinted that as many as two thirds of the NHS accounting and finance functions would be outsourced, with much of the work being done in India.
Trade Unions, already unhappy, are positively incensed by the recent trends. Unison, the NHS staff union, has been stunned by the announcement.
It did not anticipate such a move. Karen Jennings, leading union member said, "We obviously want to get more details because we would be very concerned if more jobs were threatened."
NHS stands to benefit not only from cuts in its back-office costs, but also by getting half the profits of the venture.
Over the next decade £224 million is planned to be diverted to frontline services. A Department of Health spokeswoman was quoted saying, "More trusts signing up to use the NHS Shared Business Services (SBS) is good news for the NHS.
Streamlining NHS back-office functions reduce bureaucracy and generate substantial savings for reinvestment in frontline services."
Invoices, expenses claims, payroll details and other financial data are sent by participating trusts to the SBS centres in Leeds, Bristol, Southampton and Portsmouth. The documents are scanned and sent electronically to India for processing.