Keep our NHS out of ALL trade deals – Keep Our NHS Public position statement

Keep our NHS out of ALL trade deals – Keep Our NHS Public position statement March 2020

We’re clear that we want Donald Trump nowhere near our NHS! But Keep Our NHS Public doesn’t just want to stop one potential Transatlantic sell-off. We demand that our Government guarantees by law that the NHS is a public service outside of all trade deals. The NHS can’t be protected until it is fully back in public hands.

Privatisation of the NHS has already growing for 30 years. Now private interests are growing in key areas like NHS buildings, personal health data mining, finance, HR – as well as clinical support services like pathology tests, scanning and imaging. The NHS is already encircled by hungry private sharks, feeding off the NHS to the tune of between £5-20 billion each year. We demand that our Government ends the running of our NHS through commercial and competitive clinical contracts.

In 2009 the NHS was the most efficient, cost-effective health service amongst major economies. This was the last time the NHS was properly funded. After 2010 and the Con-Lib coalition the NHS has been increasingly underfunded and privatisation and outsourcing has increased. As the effects of society-wide austerity have started to exert pressure on all our services the NHS now faces a very real crisis.

7.3% of funding for clinical services is already in private hands. Virgin holds 400 contracts. Huge pathology contracts are being served up. Imaging, pharmacy, commissioning and business planning are increasingly in private hands. ‘Referral management systems’ and data management are run by Optum, Capita etc. Poorly regulated, privately owned health apps are mushrooming.. Trade deals that include the NHS – both with the US and with other countries and trading blocks – could escalate all this. They could suck the life blood out of the NHS. Enforced upward drug pricing would be hugely damaging. Investment protection measures such as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISSD) would allow transnational corporations to use an international trade tribunal to sue the UK government for massive compensation if new policies threatened company profits.

The NHS and Trade and Investment Agreements  – Trump’s fake reassurances

Whatever Trump says about the NHS being on or off the negotiating table, the fact is that – thanks in part to the 2012 Health and Social Care Act – the NHS has been opened up to European and American markets for at least the last 6 years.

Many trade deals these days (so-called ‘new generation’ deals) cover not just goods, but trade in services. As the NHS has already been turned into a market, it may be included in trade deals unless it is explicitly excluded.

Until now, trade deals have been negotiated by the European Union on the UK’s behalf. Negotiations have been secretive and the UK Parliament has had no way to decisively veto an unsatisfactory deal. Following Brexit, there are fears that Trump’s trade deals will be modelled on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). This suggests that a UK/USA agreement will:

  • remove most tariffs on trade
  • cut regulation and so reduce government control over transnational corporations
  • include a council for ‘regulatory co-operation’ that will allow corporations to influence draft UK legislation
  • include a punitive investment protection mechanism (like Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS).for the benefit of multinational corporations

Investment protection mechanisms raise particular concerns for the future of the NHS. Because these allow transnational corporations to sue the UK government for eye-watering amounts of compensation if it introduces new policies that affect company profits, the growing privatisation of the NHS will be nigh on impossible to reverse

In addition, it is feared that the USA will demand an end to NHS controls on the cost of pharmaceuticals, in favour of USA-style direct-marketing of drugs. If this happened, the costs of medicines would become unsustainable for the NHS.