Health unions seek assurances after leak on trade talks and NHS

Medics have called for guarantees that health will not be put at risk for profit after Labour released official documents that it said proved the NHS would be “on the table” in trade talks with the US.

The leaked papers revealed that UK and US officials have repeatedly discussed dismantling protections that keep NHS drug prices down, undermining Boris Johnson’s claim that healthcare is not on the table in trade talks.

Unions representing NHS staff said the disclosures were deeply worrying and rendered promises given previously by the Tories insufficient.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association council, said: “The implication that the NHS could be included in a post-Brexit trade deal with the US is alarming and must not become a reality. Despite previous assurances from Mr Johnson, following the release of these documents we now need cast-iron guarantees from all parties that the health service will form no part of negotiations around future trade deals, and that the health of the British public will not be put at risk by commercial motives or lower standards.

“We must ensure that no matter what government is in charge, patients’ access to essential and life-changing medicine cannot be put at risk.”

Donna Kinnair, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Nursing staff will be very concerned at any suggestion or evidence that a post-Brexit trade deal with the US could mean open season on NHS services. No matter how people voted in the EU referendum, no one wants the health service to be exposed to a carve-up to facilitate trade negotiations with another country.”

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The NHS Confederation, which represents more than 560 organisations that plan, commission and provide NHS services, offered a more cautious response. The confederation includes the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, which counts among its members the UK arm of HCA Healthcare UK, part of the US-based company, which is one of the world’s largest healthcare corporations.

Layla McCay, its director of international relations, said: “It will be for the government to decide what services to offer, or not, in any future trade deal. There might have been talks about NHS involvement in a potential US trade deal in the past but what is important is what the government actually commits to. At the moment it says that the NHS is not on the table.”

NHS bosses have been accused of gagging staff during the election campaign to prevent them from highlighting the fragile state of the health service, which is a key battleground for Labour and the Conservatives, but some doctors publicly criticised Johnson.

Dr Lauren Gavaghan, an NHS consultant psychiatrist, said: “He [Johnson] lied to the public with the £350m NHS promise during the referendum and now we see US-UK trade deals include the NHS on the table. The NHS being opened up to American healthcare companies would be disastrous.

“We know that hundreds of thousands of people face huge financial strain and go bankrupt in the USA trying to pay medical bills. The public need to decide whether they want this in the UK and vote accordingly at the general election. I sincerely hope the NHS wins rather than Boris Johnson.”

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Ben White, a junior doctor, said: “By now it’s obvious to everyone the NHS, or parts of it, would be up for grabs as part of Boris’s post-Brexit trade deal with the US. We cannot believe anything Boris says so must take the documents at face value. More analysis is needed to determine the full extent of the trade talks.”


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