NHS hysteria bites again


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?

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. nigel hunter says

    Why are very few British companies providing NHS facilities?If British companies became more involved.Further competition could encourage reduction in costs resulting in a cheaper NHS supply chain.

    • Joe Zammit-Lucia says

      Nigel, it seems that the reason more British companies don’t provide more NHS services is that the terms on offer are not profitable. That’s unlikely to change after a UK/US trade deal. So we’re unlikely to see American companies rushing in.

  2. Simon Bond says

    You’ve not mentioned the issue of the US pharmaceutical companies wanting to end the NHS’s ability to buy drugs at reasonable prices.

    • Joe Zammit-Lucia says

      Thank you Simon. You are right I didn’t. For two reasons.

      There is no trade deal in the world where suppliers are allowed to determine selling prices in the countries to which they export. Trade deals are about opening the market as it is structured to other countries’ products and services without tariffs or other discriminatory measures. It’s about equal access not about market structure.

      Second Pharma companies (American or otherwise) already have to negotiate prices and access to formularies of health care providers in the US itself. No trade deal is going to determine, for instance, that British pharma companies can sell to US providers without such negotiation

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