The leaked record of the five meetings of the UK–US Trade & Investment Working Group held in 2017–18 has led to a controversy in the UK election campaign around the claim that ‘the NHS is up for sale’.
But a careful reading of the leaked documents reveals how remarkably little concerns the NHS – in five meetings over 16 months, the NHS is mentioned just four times. The patent regime and how it affects medicines is discussed in more depth but largely in terms of the participants trying to understand each other’s systems and perspectives. For the most part, the discussions were overwhelmingly about everything else a trade deal would cover other than healthcare – matters such as subsidies, rules of origin and customs facilitation.
But this does not mean there will be no impact on Britain’s health service. There are three main concerns about the possible implications of a US–UK trade deal after Brexit – a negotiation that will of course only take place if the UK remains outside the EU customs union and single market and also does not reach a trade agreement with the EU that proves incompatible with US negotiating objectives(opens in new window).
One concern is that the US aim of securing ‘full market access for US products’, expressed in the US negotiating objectives, will affect the ability of NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) to procure products for the NHS that are deemed too expensive in relation to their benefits. It could also affect the ability of the NHS to negotiate with companies to secure price reductions as, for instance, happened recently with Orkambi, a cystic fibrosis drug. Read more