NHS threatened by US trade deal, warns Lord Owen

NHS services could be exposed to increased private sector competition because of an EU trade deal with the US, a former health secretary has warned.

Lords: fresh attempt to challenge Health Act changes
Lords: fresh attempt to challenge Health Act changes

Crossbench peer Lord Owen hit out over the deal as he prepared to launch a bill in the House of Lords calling for the ‘reinstatement of the English NHS’, and urging changes to controversial elements of the Health and Social Care Act.

Lord Owen said ‘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,’ he added.

GPC member and anti-NHS privatisation campaigner Dr David Wrigley told GP: ‘I am very supportive of Lord Owen’s ongoing campaign to protect the NHS against privatisation. It is absolutely vital we have prominent figures protecting the NHS.’

Dr Wrigley said it was ‘quite within the government’s power’ to agree a trade deal that protects the NHS. He added that failing to do so suggested the government was ‘keen to sell off as much as possible of the NHS to the private sector’.

The ‘NHS (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill’ introduced on Friday by Lord Owen calls for the health secretary to have a duty to ‘promote in England a comprehensive and integrated health service’ .

It also calls for the removal of the controversial 'section 75' of the health act. The bill will call for GP commissioners not to be under a 'legal obligation to foster markets', and to be free to commission whichever services best serve patients' needs.

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