My hon. Friend makes a powerful point with which I agree. The voice of the BMA and other professional bodies is most important and must be heard.
The petition asks for the provision of “concrete safeguards” to keep NHS services out of any future trade deals. That is nothing new; that fight has been ongoing for years, even within the EU. To this very day, those British members of the European Parliament who care about our NHS are battling to keep NHS services out of the developing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the USA.
The Government said in response to the petition,
“The UK’s public services are protected by specific exceptions and reservations in EU Free Trade Agreements. As we leave the EU, the UK will continue to ensure that rigorous protections are included in all trade agreements it is party to”,
but that can be only an aspiration. It is not a cast-iron guarantee that the transfer of any EU regulations into UK law will specifically protect the NHS from future trade agreements. Just as the EU found with TTIP, we will need to further regulate for the exclusion of NHS services from trade agreements. Action, not words, needs to be the order of the day. Given that the Government refused in 2016 to exclude the NHS from the TTIP negotiations, that may well turn out to be a tall order.
American healthcare providers can already compete to deliver services in the UK. However, the threat to the NHS of a US trade deal would be through clauses that lock in existing levels of privatisation and prevent future Governments from rolling them back.