A toxic trade deal with Trump means a blank cheque for big pharma


29 October 2019

Channel 4’s Dispatches exposed the dangers to the NHS of a trade deal with the US. In spite of the government’s insistence that the NHS is off the table, the documentary revealed that five secret meetings have taken place between senior civil servants and representatives of the US pharmaceutical industry - none of these meetings have been declared claimed the show.

The most recent of these meetings took place in August, after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and the Dispatches source said that ‘price caps’ were discussed in at least one of these meetings. The show also exposed that the British and US trade negotiators have already held six rounds of official talks. The details of these discussions are secret but the price the NHS pays for drugs has been on the table in all six meetings.

And to obscure this dangerous agenda, civil servants have been told not to use the words: ‘drug pricing’ and instead use: ‘valuing innovation’. This is straight-up whitewashing. As positive as it sounds, big pharma has long wanted to move public debate on pricing onto the concept of value. So instead of pricing being thought about as covering costs plus a reasonable return, value-based pricing is about the value that you would put on a life-saving drug. Of course for anyone needing treatment, the value is immeasurable and so value-based pricing is essentially a blank cheque for charging the highest prices you can get away with.

This is a dangerous agenda that will boost corporate profits at the expense of NHS and patients. The NHS already spends £18bn a year on drugs and the NHS is increasingly having to reject or ration drugs because of spiralling drug prices. The show estimated that Big Pharma’s agenda would hike up the NHS drugs bill to £45bn - which is £500m a week. Not only is this unsustainable for our chronically underfunded NHS but the hardest hit will be the patients who depend on the medicines they need to save or prolong their lives.

US drug firms want more market access for their high-priced drugs and so they want to sweep away the price regulatory mechanisms that we have in the UK as well as prolong the monopoly protection for biologics - these are the latest most advanced, high-tech drugs that have proved to be extremely effective in treating auto-immune diseases  and cancers. In other words, big pharma want the NHS to pay even higher prices for drugs that patients depend on.

Boris Johnson’s government is desperate for a trade deal with Trump - at any cost. And drug prices are just the tip of the iceberg. A trade deal with the US could also lock-in existing and future levels of privatisation in the NHS. And that’s not to mention lowering of food and farming standards as well as provisions that stop us from tackling catastrophic climate change. A US trade deal could also give US corporations exclusive privileges to sue our government in corporate courts for UK policies that protect our food, environment, climate and the NHS.

This toxic trade deal needs to be stopped and we need to build a movement to do this. Join our campaign today.


Image: The White House/Flickr

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