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General election 2019: Row over Labour’s ‘NHS for sale’ claim

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General election 2019: Row over Labour's 'NHS for sale' claim

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Media caption Jeremy Corbyn: "This election is now a fight for NHS survival"

There was a fight after Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed he had "evidence" that the NHS was at risk under a post-Brexit trade agreement with the US.

Corbyn said he had a 451-page dossier showing initial negotiations, proving the NHS was "for sale".

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the allegations were "absurd" and that the NHS would not be part of the trade talks.

The Tory manifesto explicitly states that neither the price paid for the drugs nor the NHS services will be "on the table".

Meanwhile, the SNP has published its manifesto, which includes a pledge to "prevent the NHS from becoming leverage in any international trade agreement" through its NHS Protection Act.

And other parties have criticized the conservatives, including Brexit shadow secretary, Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, who said the public would be "horrified at what appears to be a deal between conservatives and Donald Trump who puts the NHS on the line. table".

Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas said the Conservative Party "can no longer claim that the NHS is not for sale," adding: "Under their watch, it is."

Mark Dayan, policy analyst and head of public affairs for research group Nuffield Trust, said the NHS was not being "flogged" in the sense that US companies will not own hospitals.

But he said the documents suggest the US is trying various tactics to get the NHS to pay pharmaceutical companies more money for the drugs they sell.

"Obviously, from the NHS point of view, this is a concern … you are really missing out on this situation," he said.

Dayan said that if negotiations with the US continue, UK negotiators must "put a lot of pressure on the interests of the United Kingdom and the NHS."

General election 2019: Row over Labour's 'NHS for sale' claim

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Media captionBoris Johnson says Jeremy Corbyn's 451-page NHS dossier is a "diversion tactic"

What evidence did the work obtain?

The work obtained uncensored government documents covering six rounds of negotiations between US and UK officials in Washington and London between July 2017 and July 2019.

All are preparatory meetings before formal trade negotiations.

These documents provide more details about the meetings. Channel 4 Dispatch Program reported last month.

They show that the US is interested in discussing drug prices – primarily by extending patents that prevent the use of cheaper generic drugs.

One paper quotes a UK official as saying the negotiations are useful in determining areas that the US might want to discuss, although it acknowledges that the UK would object.

Like the pharmaceutical industry, the talks also covered other areas, including agriculture and climate change. The UK team asked about including a reference to climate change in any US-UK trade deal, something the US side said was not allowed by Congress.

The document also refers to the US policy of making "full market access" a starting point in any trade negotiations – but says it is up to other countries to specify what they want to be excluded from the negotiations.

There is no indication in the documents that the UK team has agreed to anything in the negotiations.

Is this proof that the NHS is for sale?

Jeremy Corbyn does not provide evidence that ministers agreed that health care should be part of a trade agreement with the US.

But details of discussions about the demands of US pharmaceutical companies will still be motivating for NHS-concerned Labor voters.

"Not for sale" has been the biggest mantra at labor events, although Conservatives have always furiously denied that the NHS is in any way "for sale."

It is clear that US pharmaceutical companies want access to UK markets – workers suggest that the UK agreed that it could extend patents on some drugs, which could cost the NHS more, for example.

But whether any UK government would make a deal that would make drugs much more expensive for the NHS, and therefore the taxpayer, which would be extremely expensive for the government and likely to be deeply unpopular, is a big political issue.

The conservative manifesto says the NHS will not be at the table in post-Brexit trade talks.

The NHS For Sale – Explained

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The claim that the NHS would be part of a free trade agreement with the US under the Conservatives was one of Labor's main lines of attack in the general election campaign.

The workforce warned that this could mean rising prices for NHS drugs and services being hired from US health care companies.

Today, the NHS can use its bargaining power as a centralized healthcare system to negotiate low drug prices.

It also has a strong history of resisting attempts to increase drug patents to allow cheaper generics to be used faster than in the US.

Today, the US pays two and a half times more for drugs than the NHS.

Meanwhile, about 7% of the NHS budget in England goes to private companies providing NHS services, mainly non-emergency treatments such as knee and hip replacements and some community services.

And Labor warned that this market could be further extended under conservatives.

The war of words

Corbyn said the documents show that the negotiations are at a "very advanced stage" and lied to Boris Johnson's allegations that the NHS would not be part of any trade negotiations.

"Uncensored documents leave Boris Johnson's denials in absolute shambles," he told a news conference in London.

"We now have evidence that under Boris Johnson the NHS is on the table and will be for sale.

"He tried to cover it up in a secret agenda and was exposed today."

Reacting to Corbyn's latest claims, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said it was simply a scam.

"Jeremy Corbyn is getting desperate and lying about what the documents contain.

"People shouldn't believe what he says."

Meanwhile, Johnson said the allegations were "utter nonsense".

"This is continually approached by the Labor Party as a diversionary tactic of the difficulties they are facing," he said.

And he could give an "absolute guarantee of cast iron", the NHS would not be on the table.

He also pointed out that the documents were available online for two months.


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