Buried among questions to the PM yesterday on the G8 summit was this one:
‘Will the Prime Minister confirm that the NHS is exempt from the EU-US trade negotiations?’
– from Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab):
Cameron’s response was brief.
‘I am not aware of a specific exemption for any particular area, but I think that the health service would be treated in the same way in relation to EU-US negotiations as it is in relation to EU rules. If that is in any way inaccurate, I will write to the hon. Lady and put it right.’
‘Buried’ is precisely what this issue has consistently been. This is not an issue that anyone seems to want us to talk much about.
And yet the EU US trade agreement is one of the biggest threats to the future of the NHS as we know it.
We’ve posted on this before. But this question is not moving centre stage the way it should be.
So we make no apologies for posting on it again.
The Health and Social Care Act and its accompanying Section 75 regulations have opened up the NHS to outside bidders – national, but also international.
And that opening up is not a peripheral extra.
It is an integral part of the Tories’ plans for the NHS and its progressive privatisation. The international side of that has arguably been a driving force behind this whole agenda.
The EU/US trade agreement is crucial to this. It has been long in the making. And health was specifically named over two years ago as a primary target for negotiations.
Unless the NHS – or other public services – are specifically exempted, the agreement will open them up to international privatisation in ways which it will be near impossible to undo.
The Canadians have been much sharper at understanding all this. Alongside the EU/US agreement, a parallel negotiation has been under way between the EU and Canada. That negotiation unmasks the implications of the EU/US one for our own NHS. One of the major sticking points has been exactly Canadian objections to the demands for the ‘liberalisation’ of public procurement which the EU has been demanding. Canadian campaigners at state level have fully understood the implications for public services and their privatisation which the deal involves.
In Britain, we have been much slower to grasp what’s going on – not least because our own media have failed to keep us properly informed.
‘The lack of public information here on trade deals is maintained by deliberate government secrecy. Underneath the spin and faux technicality is a trade agenda for which the bottom line is simply a free hand for corporations. Associated with this lack of transparency is the failure of the UK media to report these developments.
Within the BBC, for instance, all ‘business’ news is filtered through the corporate-captured Business Unit. The result is that only the big business view emerges, and briefings from civil society sources on this issue are not reported on. This is a real block to public debate, despite license fee funding to provide public service broadcasting.’ [Linda Kaucher]
To his great credit, Lord Owen is one of those who have fully grasped the situation – as we reported earlier.
‘sources close to the negotiations’ over a EU-US trade deal had revealed that unlike a similar deal struck with Canada, the US deal contained ‘no plan to exclude arrangements for healthcare and protection and in particular for the NHS in its different forms in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’.
He warned that the deal raised fears of ‘investment protection being extended to the whole raft of private health contracts in the UK that American health care companies and consultancies expect to be awarded to them in the next few years’.
‘Such protection could have the effect of health contracts being virtually retained in perpetuity,’
One outcome of this week’s G8 meeting is that the EU/US negotiations are now to be pushed ahead.
And Cameron’s reply to Debbie Abrahams should set the warning bells ringing. No protections for the NHS or similar public services are planned.
Labour’s attempts to stop the Section 75 regulations were stopped in the Lords – thanks to LibDem support of the Tories.
This needs to be the next line of defence of the NHS.
It’s essential that this issue rise up the public agenda NOW, before it’s too late.
You can sign the epetition
And if you’re as concerned about this as we are, you can contact us, and we’ll pass on your comments to Andy Burnham.