Only days left to protect our NHS from trade deal threats

'Keep our NHS Public' logo: 'NHS - Not for Sale'.
Image credit: Keep Our NHS Public

The clock is ticking on efforts to save the NHS from being bought and sold in future trade deals. On Tuesday or Wednesday MPs will decide whether or not to back crucial Lords’ amendments to the government’s Trade Bill.

If these amendments are not passed, the health service will be treated like any business – its profitable parts privatised and its data (our data) sold to the highest bidder. Big US companies are already eyeing up their chances of making a killing from a Britain that is now free to make its own deals outside the EU.

But there is something we can do even at this late stage. Campaigners are urging people to email their MPs, or to send them a 30 second video of why they think the NHS is too important to be bartered away.

In December 2020 the House of Lords passed amendments to the government’s Trade Bill which would allow parliament to scrutinise all future trade deals, as well as protecting NHS and healthcare data. With MPs’ support, the NHS would be off the negotiating table, preventing further irreversible privatisation.

But back in July last year, Conservative MPs including Sally Ann Hart (MP for Hastings and Rye) and Huw Merriman (MP for Bexhill and Battle) voted against NHS protection. Other Sussex MPs voting against were: Maria Caulfield, Lewes; Caroline Ansell, Eastbourne; Tim Loughton, East Worthing & Shoreham; Mims Davies, Mid Sussex; and Andrew Griffiths, Arundel & South Downs.

The risks, if health services are not excluded from future trade deals, include:

  • Drug prices rising so high that the NHS could not afford to provide certain medication
  • NHS data being held in countries where data protections are weaker than in the UK

The reality of the NHS being on the negotiating table is terrifying. In the USA, more than 13% of American adults – about 34 million people – report knowing of at least one friend or family member in the past five years who died after not receiving needed medical treatment because they were unable to pay for it.

Faced with this prospect, over 300,000 people signed a petition calling on the Lords to amend the Trade Bill to give parliament a say over trade deals and protect our NHS. The Lords duly obliged and backed the amendments. Next week MPs have to decide whether to accept them. They of course have the final say.

In Hastings, Jay Kramer, on behalf of Keep Our NHS Public, urges people to consider the risks and act now. She said:

“We are asking for a last push to try to persuade all MPs, but especially Tories, to support the two important Lords amendments.

“We call on all Sussex MPs to follow the example of the Lords and support the scrutiny and NHS amendments to protect our NHS. We urge you to write to your MP in the next 48 hours to support the two amendments.

“This could well be our last chance to get these protections written into law.”

Many MPs have already signed the pledge on social media to keep our NHS public and safe. The real test will come when the bill is debated in the Commons. The government is asking MPs to believe that the amendments are not necessary; that they’ve pledged time and again that the NHS is safe in their hands.

Their record of underfunding over 10 years, and their slow response in protecting NHS workers at the start of the pandemic, suggests otherwise.

Follow @SussexBylines on social media