U.K. Doctors Want NHS Out of TTIP Now*
By Michaela Whitton
Doctors have voted overwhelmingly in favour of urging the U.K. Government to remove health and social care services from the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. A debate on the first day of the British Medical Association’s annual meeting in Liverpool argued that TTIP is designed to meet the interests of private corporations and opens up the health service to privatization by U.S. firms.
Edinburgh general practitioner Dr. Gregor Venters said, “It will have a deleterious effect on public health and make privatisation of the NHS not only possible but probable. The least we can expect is the exclusion of health and social care and public health policy from the process.“
The Health and Social Care Act of 2012 trashed the founding NHS principles of free services and universal access by paving the way for private providers to profit from ill health. The much talked about Section 75 requires commissioners to put up for bid everything that can be provided by an organization other than the NHS.
If TTIP passes, it will become a bridge between multinational corporations and the Health and Social Care Act, effectively cementing the privatization.
“If there is anything resembling an NHS by the time this treaty is negotiated it won’t survive,” another GP warned.
In other words, the NHS will switch from being a social body that acts in the interests of patients to an economic body acting in the interest of profits— leading to dire consequences for U.K. residents.
Public health regulations would harmonize with U.S. regulations and access to generic drugs would be under increased threat. The E.U.-U.S. trade deal would cut trade barriers across the Atlantic, allowing the free flow of goods and services and locking states into private ownership deals, placing profit over equality and social need.
The U.K. and U.S. health care systems will be further aligned and the overriding power transferred to corporations under free trade agreements. Regulatory differences will be removed and corporations could enter the U.K. market and operate without limits on activities.
Part of this power is the poisonous mechanism of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which allows an investor from one country to bring a case directly against the country where they have invested. In special courts, threats of huge compensation claims could lock the NHS into an expanded corporate market with governments potentially being sued for new regulations that might limit expected future profits. Private healthcare providers could potentially sue the British government if it ever attempted to re-nationalize health care.
Some epic examples of how free trade agreements and ISDS have enabled transnationals to sue governments on the basis of a “potential loss in profits” include the tobacco industry suing Uruguay’s government for increasing the size of health warnings on cigarette packaging, a nuclear company hauling Germany to court for abandoning atomic power, U.S. pharmaceutical giants challenging Canada for restricting the use of high price drugs, and French company Veolia attempting to sue the Egyptian government for raising the minimum wage and threatening its profits.
At the conference where all but one delegate voted in favour of urging the government to remove public health legislation and health and social care services from the TTIP negotiations, another BMA representative said, “The correct motion is to kill this treaty dead, not to tolerate it sneaking in and mugging us.”
As well as directly affecting health care, the destruction of the NHS signifies something else—namely, the erosion of the U.K. government’s duty to provide care to everyone in society, separate from commerce and profit.
Some may query whether the British government still makes decisions for the benefit of its citizens. If indeed it does, TTIP will massively diminish its ability to do so.