US-UK trade deal: Threats to the NHS and drug pricing

March 2020

In its negotiating objectives for a US-UK trade deal, the UK government has said: “…the National Health Service (NHS) will not be on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. The services the NHS provides will not be on the table. The NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector”. On the surface, it may appear that the NHS and drug prices are no longer under threat from a US-UK trade deal.

However, the risk is not that the government would sell off the whole institution to US healthcare firms but that modern trade deals include rules on trading services, intellectual property rights, market access, investor protection and data flows – all of which pose threats to the extent that private firms can operate within the NHS as well as the prices it pays for drugs. 

The government’s rhetoric is not fully backed up by its other negotiating objectives which do not explicitly rule out all these threats. And papers leaked from the trade talks that have taken place so far  reveal that the rules which affect the NHS and drug prices have already been discussed.

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