Anti-privatisation campaigners have criticised the government’s approach to the NHS in trade deals as the Trade Bill returns to the Commons.
We Own It – a group campaigning for greater protections for the NHS against future trade agreements – say the government’s proposals for safeguarding the NHS “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”.
The criticism comes as the government produced an amendment which seeks to reach a compromise on issues raised about the NHS’ inclusion in trade deals by the House of Lords.
The government’s amendment states that future trade agreements “must be consistent with maintaining UK publicly-funded clinical healthcare services”.
However, campaigners claim that this would offer little protection for the NHS because it solely covers “clinical healthcare services”, rather than the NHS as a whole, and only seeks to maintain ‘public funding’ of the NHS, rather than public ownership.
Johnbosco Nwogbo, campaigns officer at We Own It said: “The government’s amendment falls well short of what is needed, and frankly it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
“Our NHS is already suffering under years of privatisation – with as much as 26% of the NHS budget being spent on the private and independent sector. So maintaining publicly funded healthcare services won’t stop the private healthcare sector in the USA or any other country getting their hands on huge chunks of our precious health service.
“What’s needed is to ensure the NHS remains publicly funded, but also that it remains publicly owned – and for protections on ownership to be written into the legislation.
He added: “If the government was serious about protecting the NHS it would do the right thing and put in place proper and full safeguards for the health service in any future trade agreements, and write those safeguards into law. That’s the only way we’ll take our NHS off the table.”
No 10 has faced significant pressure to alleviate concerns that the NHS could be used as a bargaining chip in future trade deals. More than 300,000 people have signed a petition asking the Lords to ringfence the NHS from future deals while 20,000 people have written to their MP asking them to vote to protect the health service.
Campaigners warn that failing to implement safeguards against privatisation could open the NHS up to being charged more for drugs and services.
Polling by Survation suggests the public is also worried, with three quarters wanting protections in place.
The government’s amendment to the Trade Bill has been proposed after a more wide-ranging amendment to protect the NHS in the House of Lords was withdrawn by Labour’s Baroness Thornton after the government pledged to bring their own.
This will be the third time the bill will pass through the lower chamber after being defeated twice.