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The Tories’ new trade bill means the NHS is now up for sale

Three years ago, a historic milestone was reached in the United States. The healthcare sector became the country’s largest employer, surpassing the manufacturing and retail industries, the jobs powerhouses of the 20th century.

One in eight Americans are now employed in healthcare. Around $3.65tn (£2.87tn) was spent on healthcare in the US in 2018, almost a trillion dollars more than Britain’s entire GDP.

With an ageing population, and millions of Americans living with chronic illness, the continued growth of the US healthcare sector is guaranteed, both in employment and market size. And with that much at stake, the sector works hard to protect its interests. It spent almost $300m on lobbying last year, well over double what was spent by the oil and gas industry.

The big US hospital and pharmaceutical companies could simply bask in this growth and the rising dividends it delivers to their shareholders, but why should they? The same demographic trends we see in America are driving increasing health spending across the world, so the major US corporations are chasing their share of that overseas growth as well.

Based on these simple facts, and given the size and power of the US healthcare industry, its lobbying expenditure and its global ambitions, we can ask a number of topical question. Is it likely these companies are taking an active interest in the negotiations between the US and UK governments on a potential free trade agreement? Would they regard that agreement as an opportunity to maximise their access to the UK health market, and their potential share of income when the NHS commissions medical services and procures equipment and drugs? Would they see it as a chance to mine the NHS’s vast source of patient data for their own clinical and diagnostic research, not least to develop tools and medicines that they could sell back to the NHS?

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