There is a plot against our NHS. Boris Johnson is engaged in a cover-up of secret talks for a sell-out American trade deal that would drive up the cost of medicines and lead to runaway privatisation of our health service.
US corporations want to force up the price we pay for drugs, which could drain £500m a week from the NHS. And they demand the green light for full access to Britain’s public health system for private profit.
Our public services are not bargaining chips to be traded in secret deals. I pledge a Labour government will exclude the NHS, medicines and public services from any trade deals – and make that binding in law.
Mega-corporations see Johnson’s toxic alliance with Donald Trump as a chance to make billions from sick people in Britain and around the world. His hard-right Brexit plans depend on a corporate-driven trade deal with America post-election.
Claims that this is scaremongering simply ignore the facts. US and British government officials have met six times in secret and discussed the cost of medicines. British officials have even met US drugs firms directly. When campaigners forced the release of reports about the meetings, the government censored almost every word in them, with page after page of blacked out lines.
Johnson must come clean and immediately publish in full all documents relating to those meetings. And he must finally publish the UK’s official negotiating objectives – as the US has. The public deserves to know what is being sold off in a deal with Trump.
US negotiating objectives demand “full market access” in the UK for American pharmaceutical companies: meaning an end to drug price controls in plain language. Trump has complained loudly about what he calls the “unreasonably low prices” other countries pay for medicines, and the US insisted on including pharmaceuticals in recent trade deals with Canada, Mexico and South Korea.
Trump is determined to push up the price we pay for drugs so US big pharma can suck out more profits from the provision of vital medicines to patients. As senior NHS managers have warned, the planned Trump trade deal will “pass on costs to both patients and the NHS”.
Lives will certainly be put at risk, and £500m a week would more than wipe out Johnson’s commitments to the NHS: the equivalent of a new hospital, 20,000 newly qualified nurses, or 50,000 hip operations lost every week.
Some have claimed the £500m figure is fantasy. Not so. The calculation comes from Dr Andrew Hill of Liverpool University, an adviser to the World Health Organisation. It is based on the extra cost if we have to pay US prices for drugs, which are on average 250% higher than ours.
The fact that only a proportion of the medicines we buy come from the US provides no comfort. Trump’s demands would not just benefit US pharma corporations, they would dismantle the entire UK system for controlling drug prices.
That has been made explicit by the multibillion dollar US pharmaceutical industry, which has singled out Nice, which approves treatments for use by the NHS, as a “barrier” to be “eliminated” in trade talks because they correctly see it as a “cost containment tool”. Break the NHS’s ability to negotiate, and prices will soar in a US-style rigged market. Trump will use this standard to force up prices around the world.
Drug prices used to be similar on both sides of the Atlantic, but the relentless pressure of the pharma lobby warped the US system. Big pharma has ripped off and imperilled the health of the American people ever since. Now it wants to do the same to us as part of a post-election sellout Brexit trade deal with Johnson.
US big business is licking its lips. Just this month, two powerful business bodies enthusiasticallypredicted public opposition to the inclusion of the NHS in trade talks would be “easier to overcome” with Johnson in charge.
But why, some commentators ask, would a Conservative government agree to this? The answer is that any trade deal involves both parties getting at least something they want. For Johnson’s Conservatives, that means “as much market access as possible for UK financial services” to break into the US, as former trade minister Greg Hands has revealed. As ever, the Tories’ priority is looking out for the bankers and hedge fund speculators who fund them.
The Conservatives have form when it comes to selling out our NHS – they have tried to include health services in every recent trade negotiation. So under Johnson’s Conservatives we can look forward to far more privatisation in the NHS as part of his hard-right Brexit deal. Or we can reject the toxic alliance of Johnson, Trump and Nigel Farage – the three privateers – and elect a Labour government to rescue our NHS with 24,000 more nurses, 5,000 more GPs, shorter waiting times and a publicly owned medicine company.
Our NHS is not for sale. Labour will invest properly in the health service, develop generic medicines, never hand over an extra £500m a week to big drugs companies and reverse the privatisation of our NHS.