More than 400 health professionals sign open letter calling for NHS to be protected from trade deals

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) meets US President Donald Trump. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) meets US President Donald Trump. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA. - Credit: PA

More than 400 NHS and public health professionals have signed an open letter calling on the health service to be protected from post-Brexit trade deals.

Among the supporters are senior and high profile figures from the health service, health publishing and academia - including The Lancet editor Richard Horton and the president of the Faculty of Public Health, Prof Maggie Rae.

The letter comes as parliament is set to debate the latest stage of the Trade Bill on July 20. Its signatories are calling for parliament to amend the bill, claiming that if it doesn't, 'the NHS will be on the table in future trade deals'.

'In the UK, we take it for granted that we won't go bankrupt paying for medical treatment. COVID-19 has shown us the importance of healthcare being accessible to all, and the value of our NHS and public health system,' said letter author Dr Sarah Walpole, a junior doctor.

'The Trade Bill in its current form leads the way towards ongoing fragmentation and marketisation of UK health services and higher drug prices, a path which the NHS may not survive. If services are contracted out to private companies through trade deals, this may be irreversible due to international law.

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'We are calling on MPs to protect the NHS by voting for amendments to the Trade Bill that exclude health services from future trade deals.'

In the letter, the health professionals go on to claim that failing to protect the NHS from trade deals would open up the NHS to being charged more for drugs, enshrine the rights of American healthcare companies to access the NHS in international treaties and 'lock in' privatisation that would be incredibly difficult for a future government to reverse.

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'At a time when we're relying on our health service more than ever before, it's beyond shocking that the government would pass legislation that could see our NHS be carved up and sold off,' said We Own It Director Cat Hobbs, who has been campaigning on the issue.

'Boris Johnson's warm words aren't enough. We can't wish away the threat that trade deals pose to our NHS. Instead, what we need is concrete protection. To make matters worse, right now we not only don't have this protection, but parliament isn't being given the most basic powers of scrutiny on trade deals. That means neither MPs, nor the public will be able to see what is being included, and how our NHS will be affected.

'MPs debating the Trade Bill must listen to the public and stand up for our treasured NHS. At the very least, they must back Jonathan Djanogly's amendment to allow parliament to scrutinise future trade deals. If they don't, their constituents won't forgive, and they won't forget.'

A series of amendments are being submitted to the Trade Bill, including one tabled by Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly to give parliament the power to scrutinise and vote on future trade deals. It is a power they currently do not have.

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