Lobbyists ‘wetting themselves’ over post-Brexit NHS trade deal, Labour peer warns

Corporate lobbyists are “almost wetting themselves” at the prospect of the cash to be made from their clients gaining greater access to the NHS in post-Brexit trade deals, peers have heard.

Private firms have made no secret that they see Britain’s withdrawal from the EU as a chance to expand their involvement in the health service, with its annual budget of £127 billion, argued Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe at Westminster.

The Labour peer has called for the NHS to be protected from “creeping privatisation” and for it to be excluded from any future trade deals.

Lord Brooke made his comments as he opened a debate in the House of Lords on the issue.

It follows concerns about the implications of future trade deals on the NHS, particularly with the US.

This was heightened during the recent state visit by US President Donald Trump when he said the NHS would be “on the table” in trade talks.

But he later appeared to backtrack saying that although “everything’s up for negotiation”, the NHS was not something he would “consider being part of trade”.

The Government has insisted that the NHS is not and never will be “for sale”.

Private companies are already able to tender to provide services within the NHS.

Lord Brooke pointed out that in 2017/18, the NHS in England spent £13.1 billion on care provided by non NHS organisations – equivalent to nearly 11% of the total budget.

He said: “These companies have made no secret of the fact that they see Brexit as a key opportunity to expand their operations and their market share.

“Since the British public voted to leave the EU, corporate lobbyists have been working to ensure any future trade deal delivers maximum benefits and opportunities for their clients.”

Referring to a tip-off from a City “confidante”, Lord Brooke said: “I distinctly recall being told that some city lobbyists were almost wetting themselves at the prospect of the money to be made by gaining greater freedom and entry to trading with the NHS and its mammoth budget.

“Whilst this would not be privatisation in the traditional sense it would nevertheless be an appropriation of NHS assets with private companies pocketing more of the UK’s annual health budget.”

The peer went on: “While wholesale privatisation remains unlikely, the NHS must be protected from creeping privatisation where an increasing proportion of services are contracted out until it is nationalised in name only.

“Immensely valuable assets such as data should not be traded, neither should changes be permitted that allow drug prices to rise thereby requiring other NHS services to be cut to pay for them.

“I hope the Government will openly commit to specifically exclude the NHS from future trade deals.”

For the Government, the Earl of Courtown said the NHS was not on the table in trade talks and never would be.

“The NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic,” he told peers.

“The Government will ensure no trade agreements will ever be able to alter these fundamental facts.”

Lord Courtown said no trade agreement had ever affected the Government’s ability to keep public services public.

“Trade agreements do not force us to open up the NHS to private providers,” he assured the House.

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