“This very unique experience opened my eyes to new ways of working.”

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Des Carter is a Transformation programme manager at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and took part in the 2019 intake of the HOPE exchange programme. In his blog, Des shares his experiences of the Danish national healthcare system and how it compares to our NHS.

When I found out I’d been accepted onto the HOPE exchange programme I was thrilled. I would be spending a month in Denmark, learning about their healthcare system with a diverse group of participants from different countries and backgrounds. What I knew about Denmark was limited to hygge (a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment) and their love of cycling, so I was eager to improve my knowledge of how the Danish national healthcare system works. 


Both the Danish healthcare system and the NHS face similar issues, particularly with regards to an ageing population and a rising number of people with complex comorbidities. In both England and Denmark the expectation of patients is changing in a similar manner, specifically with regard to patients wanting to interact with their healthcare providers in a more modern way.

In my short yet immersive time in Denmark, it was very apparent that their focus on providing excellent patient care and experience is consistent with that of the NHS. Both countries are focused strongly on providing consistent, high quality care and continuously improving health outcomes. 

With regards to the constitutional aspects of care, both the NHS and Danish system are free at the point of entry and emphasise patient choice regarding providers.


There were also many differences, and some were stark. For example, in Denmark the non-cancer referral-to-treatment target is 60 days (30 days to diagnosis, followed by 30 days to treatment). If this cannot be met by the public system, patients are sent to private providers and the state pays for this. 

The Electronic Health Record (EHR) in Denmark is also much more mature than in the NHS. In Denmark, every citizen has a personal identification number (called the Civil Personal Registration (CPR) number) that is used for all government services. Denmark has used the CPR in many of the digital solutions they have implemented. This ranges from allowing patients to digitally check in for their appointments to integrating their EHR for use across primary, secondary, and tertiary care.

The result is a very high degree of effective information sharing using IT systems at both a regional and national level. The CPR number enables Denmark to benefit from excellent data that can be used to inform service improvements. It’s something that we’re working towards in the NHS and having seen the benefits of this in Denmark, is something we should continue to collectively strive for.

Benefits of participating in HOPE

Participating in the HOPE programme has been an excellent development opportunity, both professionally and personally. This very unique experience opened my eyes to new ways of working and different approaches to problem solving.

In addition to learning about how things work in Denmark, I also took away a lot of knowledge from my fellow participants. Our group of seven people from different countries and backgrounds was constantly examining everything we saw through our own lens and sharing our perspectives with each other. The learning process in HOPE is not confined to the working day. Rather, it wonderfully bleeds over into breakfasts, dinners and weekends, enriching the overall experience.

The exchange has also changed the way I view the NHS by making me question the ‘status quo’ of how certain things are done. In my role the ability to ask ‘why?’ and implement change is imperative but I would argue that regardless of role, to be able to critically analyse day-to-day operations with a fresh perspective is extremely valuable to making improvements.

Make the most of it

If you’re reading this and have the opportunity to participate in the HOPE programme, here are some tips on how to make the most of it:

  • HOPE is a very immersive experience, so prepare to shift from your usual work mode to one of constant learning.
  • It’s important to leave your professional and personal life behind as much as possible, the programme leaves little time to juggle life at home and abroad. Prepare a solid handover at work and home to enable you to do this.
  • Allow yourself to benefit fully from the professional,social, and cultural aspects of HOPE.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your local and national coordinators plenty of questions. They’ll be able to provide background information so you can contextualise information properly.

The HOPE programme is a unique and exciting opportunity for individuals and organisations to understand the challenges of a healthcare system outside the UK. Find out more about the HOPE programme.

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