Thursday 28 November 2019 6:30 am

Debate: Is Labour right to warn over US interest in the NHS, uncovered in the leaked trade talk papers?

Debate: Is Labour right to warn over US interest in the NHS, uncovered in the leaked trade talk papers?

Yes — Heidi Chow is a pharmaceuticals campaigner at Global Justice Now

The leaked Trump trade papers are genuinely shocking. They confirm that drug prices and the NHS really are on the table in these talks — and that the UK will struggle to do a US trade deal if it doesn’t give ground.

The NHS is already struggling to afford spiralling medicine prices — the drugs bill has risen 31 per cent in five years —and is rejecting or rationing new medicines because they are unaffordable. 

Yet the leaked papers reveal that the US is demanding longer monopoly protections on new drugs. This would force the NHS to keep paying high prices for longer, and prevent it bringing in cheaper alternatives. This is unsustainable.


Donald Trump has made no secret that he blames high drug prices in the US on freeloading from “socialised” health systems like the NHS. The President wants to use trade deals to rectify this, and already has in deals with South Korea, Mexico and Canada. The Labour party is absolutely right to highlight this threat.

No — Kate Andrews is associate director at the Institute of Economic Affairs

There are groups of people clearly worried that the NHS will wind up “on the table” in a trade negotiation with the United States — but the leaked documents do not provide any evidence that such fears are justified.

What we have are pages of dialogue (not negotiation‚ that hasn’t started yet) which detail very thorough discussion and understanding of both sides’ robust patent regimes and engagement on transparent market access.

Most importantly to defenders of the NHS, the documents say that the US “does not expect new market access in a specific sector be an outcome of any FTA negotiation”. This heavily suggests that, in direct contradiction to the Labour party’s claims, America is not looking to expand its reach into the UK health service.

The hysteria being whipped up over the NHS is rooted in political messaging, not evidence. Perhaps this explains why the document itself is not being clipped and shared — the actual content does not back up the claims of those using it to score political points.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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