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Could Boris Johnson still use the NHS as leverage in a US trade deal?

A woman wearing a face mask as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19 walks past a graffiti tribute to the NHS in Waterloo, London - Credit: Photo by Thomas Krych/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Bonnie Greer explains why the data held by the NHS makes it so attractive to US big pharma – and why Boris Johnson could use it for leverage in a trade deal

Before I saw the video of Daniel Hannan, now Baron Hannan of Kingsclere and an advisor to the Board of Trade, disparaging the NHS on Fox News, we occasionally had light correspondence via Twitter. I enjoyed his question: “During the English civil war, which side would you have been on?”

I could imagine myself back then being a Royalist because of Ireland; against the burning of so-called witches; because the Stuarts were also Europeans through and through, and because of the clothes. I liked their flourish. Especially the hats and the heels and the fact that Charles II introduced the practice of men kissing each other on both cheeks.

I never actually heard which side Hannan said he would have been on but, shortly after, he began appearing on Fox News. There he was, effectively talking down the NHS on foreign television – he called it a “mistake we have been living through for 60 years” that had “made people iller. We spend lots of money and we get very bad results”.

Americans love a British accent. Steve Hilton, former advisor to David Cameron, himself now on Fox News, is another example.

British accents bestow to American ears a kind of authority; gravitas. Complete acceptance. This does not always work. Piers Morgan is an example, but for Hannan it did.



Fox was waging a war against the Obama administration, trying, in the words of the present Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to make him a “one-term president.” So for them, it was fit and proper to tap into that unconscious “the Brits know best” thing, to bring on a Brit against what was seen as “socialised medicine”.

The fact that the present president of the United States called Hannan’s boss “a physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump” will make it difficult for Hannan’s opinions to be taken seriously in this new Whte House. He could come up against vice president Kamala Harris, no fan of Fox News and, ideologically, no fan of the Conservatives, either.

Whichever side Hannan himself would have chosen in the civil war, the better choice now would be to flourish the cavalier’s plumed hat and practise his dancing.

One of my friends, whose daughter was studying here, fell dangerously ill with a brain tumour.

She was rushed to hospital and the NHS worked tirelessly to save her. They removed the tumour and she is now thriving back in the US. Cost, if she had undergone this procedure in her native NYC: Minimum: one million dollars.

During the early evening of the Question Time I did back in 2009 that featured the then MEP Nick Griffin, head of a powerful and nativist political party, I suddenly had heart palpitations. I had never had them before.

We called the ambulance which came immediately; stabilised me at home; put me in the ambulance; there was more equipment in there; got me into the emergency room; had a junior doctor and then the resident heart specialist tell me that all that was wrong was that I was just nervous. The nice touch was that the specialist, a British Asian, wished me luck. He knew about the upcoming show.

All this is to say that while I was being hooked up to a monitor at home; being attended to in the ambulance, and lying in that bed tended to by not one, but two doctors, my mind was adding up the cost. This was natural. Because this is what you do as an American. Americans talking about a failed health system, or the American health system in general in relation to Covid, is a joke. There is no American health system, only a series of systems with varying ways of working.

If you are unemployed, and therefore have no access to a reasonable cost health insurance through work: You. Are. Literally. In. The. Street.

Anyone who has fallen ill in the US recognises what I am saying.

As I went for my annual NHS assessment, just yesterday, I thought about how much the British take the health service for granted. Not that it is disrespected; not that it does not matter. But in believing that it will always be there. That it is somehow, a human right. What being British means.

Most have no idea how valuable the health service is. And I’m talking about what is known as “cash money”. Already parts of it have been whittled away by the Conservatives, and people do notice and protest. What most do not notice is the real goldmine of the NHS: its cohort information.

Any entity that has been keeping track of a group of people since 1948 is a goldmine. And that is an understatement.

If you were born in 1948 or after, the NHS, without any broken links, knows all about your health. Everything. From childhood to now: cradle to grave.

The receptionist at the surgery does not ask for a patient’s age for nothing. The date of birth allows the service to know everything.

If I were Johnson and Johnson, and other US Big Pharma companies, I would want a piece of this info. Actually, I would want all of it.
Imagine the drugs that could be created for an ageing society. And that is just for starters.

I sincerely do not believe that the current health secretary Sajid Javid wants to destroy the NHS; nor does Boris Johnson, whose life was literally saved by the health service. Sajid Javid has recently tested positive for the virus and I wish him a speedy and safe recovery.

However, a number of us now believe that the health service may one day just not be there as we know it. It is this country’s premium asset.

And as far as a trade deal with the US or anywhere else is concerned, it is just about all this country has left in its locker.

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