The latest meme that is taking flight is that a UK trade deal with the US would somehow mean giving up the NHS. This was fueled by an interview the US ambassador gave on the Andrew Marr Show. Sound bites about the NHS being on the line have started flooding the twittersphere and other outlets.
What is all the fuss about? Nothing really. Merely an opportunity to score political points by further misleading the public.
Non-NHS provision of NHS services is already well-established. Charities, social enterprises, private companies, all GPs and dentists – all of these already provide services on contract and outside of the state run NHS structures. Not to mention pharmaceutical products, medical devices, diagnostic products, scanners and other capital equipment, every bandage, bag of saline, injection device, etc, etc, etc. Building works, cleaning services, and all manner of other services. All provided by private companies (very few of them British) and purchased from them by the NHS.
Likewise, there is already a market for private health insurance in the UK that sits alongside the NHS.
So what, exactly, would a UK-US trade deal change? The only thing it would change would be to give more equal access to US companies or other US based organisations to compete for the provision of these services provided that they can meet the cost and quality of service constraints established in the contracts.
What it will NOT do, is on any way force the UK, unless it wished to, to change the principles under which the NHS is organized – a universal service largely funded by general taxation and (almost) free at the point of service. Maintaining or ditching those principles has nothing to do with a UK-US trade deal.
Trust in our politicians is already at an all time low. Must we really be subjected to these hysterical outbursts based either on ignorance or on the desire willfully to mislead the public to gain cheap political points?