What's the risk?

 

Is our NHS really "on the table" for Donald Trump? He said it was then he said it wasn't.

Similarly, Boris Johnson has vehemently denied the NHS is for sale to Trump - but Boris Johnson also helped launch a think tank that said US firms should run NHS hospitals.  And then there is the series of leaked US-UK trade negotiations which repeatedly discuss drugs/pharma and medical devices. What's going on?

 

Isn't this all just a stunt by Jeremy Corbyn?

No. Jeremy Corbyn has very little to do with any of it. In fact, it's quite shocking that so few people outside the health services community knew about these risks before Jeremy Corbyn waved some documents on national TV. The creeping privatisation of NHS England is something that has been highlighted by many pressure groups trying to keep our NHS public. The risks from the US were first highlighted when they were trying to negotiate a US trade deal with the EU (called "TTIP"), which failed because the European public did not like it and pressured the European Parliament to shut it down. But that episode helped make clear what US healthcare companies actually wanted from a trade deal on European shores.

 

What do the US side want?

The truth is that US corporations *do* want a piece, or many pieces, of our NHS. They have saturated their own American marketplace and see the NHS as a big (approx £130bn per annum) healthcare market to crack. They have said so in many documents setting out their ambitions. US firms want to control their intellectual property around pharaceuticals for longer, force up NHS drug prices, get more of our patient data and control more of our policymaking in the NHS. So the NHS in not for sale in one go, like you would sell a car. But rather, it is for sale in bits, with the US companies wanting to drive it to different places where it can be dismantled.

Let's talk just about NHS data. It's just been revealed that the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has just given tons of our NHS data to Amazon - "a trove of NHS data it can use to develop products to sell internationally without paying a penny to the UK." And here is the problem with that: As another piece has pointed out - US tech firms want access to our NHS data worth £10bn per annum, because they can then write algorithms on analysing those data. When they develop those algorithms, they can then own the algorithms (own the Intellectual Property) meaning that the NHS has to pay them if it wants to do something similar with its own data. But then here is an extra level of complexity: If US tech and healthcare companies are doing all the analysis - then they become the ones that make the policy recommendations to our politicians. And they are for-profit entities that might have conflicts of interest.

Now let's also talk about drug prices. The UK has a list of prices that it pays for drugs and this acts as a benchmark for many other countries. If the US drug companies can break the UK pricing system, they have more leverage to get other countries to pay more too.

 

But we can just say "no"!

Well, we could. But then would we get a trade deal at all? The problem with Brexit is that it wipes away a lot of the trade deals that we already have. That means our trade deal with the EU and also the trade deals that we've had through the EU - leaving us in a very vulnerable place. Donald Trump could apply a lot of pressure - as many have pointed out.

US drug firms have said themselves that pushing up drug prices in the NHS will be much easier for them after Brexit.

 

But Boris Johnson has said he wouldn't!

Boris Johnson doesn't have a great track record of keeping his word. In 2015, as mayor of London, Johnson vowed to "lie down in front of those bulldozers" rather than see Heathrow airport expand. He didn't. He said he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than agree a Brexit extention. He agreed a Brexit extension. He told the DUP he'd never put a border down the Irish Sea. Then betrayed them. In fact, Boris Johnson’s former chief of staff, Nick Boles, wrote that Boris Johnson is a “compulsive liar” who “will betray the NHS in a heartbeat, if that is what it takes to get a trade deal out of his role model - Donald Trump.” Yes - his former chief of staff.

 

But any political party selling the NHS would be punished at the polls!

You would have thought so, but it doesn't always work like that. In the run-up to the 2010 elections, David Cameron repeatedly said that under a Tory Government, there would be no new top-down reorganisations of the NHS. Then when in power, the Conservatives passed the Health and Social Care Act, 2012 - the biggest top-down NHS reorganisation in UK history, which also opened the door to much more privatisation. It caused outrage at the time, was seen as a huge mistake and was a clear broken promise - to the point where the Conservative Party tried to delete the record of their promises on it from the internet before the 2015 election. But did they get punished in 2015 for it? No. They have learned that if you do it slowly enough, give it enough time before the next election, make it confusing enough and throw enough denials at critics - they can get away with it.

Unless, of course, you act now.

 

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