MSPs and health campaigners seek assurances of safety for a public NHS after Hunt goes to make friends across the Atlantic
SCOTTISH politicians and social justice campaigners have asked the UK Government to clarify the integrity of the NHS as a public service after the health secretary’s trip to the US to encourage industry “links”.
They worry that the UK Government, that has accused of privatisation by stealth, is negotiating deals that could mean greater involvement by US private equity and insurance firms in the NHS.
— British Consulate NY (@UKinNewYork) February 3, 2017
Commenting, SNP MSP Clare Haughey, who is deputy convener of the Health and Sport Committee at Holyrood, said: “These revelations are deeply concerning, and are further evidence that the Tories cannot be trusted with either our NHS or on Brexit.
“The SNP will always protect the NHS in Scotland, and the Scottish Government is committed to increasing the NHS budget by £500m above inflation by the end of this parliament. It seems that the Tories have different plans.
“Donald Trump has made clear that he will only look after American interests in any future trade deals – and for Theresa May not to rule out opening up the NHS to US firms in a future trade deal shows just how little the Tories care about protecting public services.
“Sending the UK Health Secretary to the US to explore possible links sends only one message – that the NHS is up for grabs. It has long been clear that the Tories cannot be trusted, whether that is on supporting Scotland’s place in the single market, or that the NHS is not for sale.
“It is deeply concerning that the government could sell off our public services without a mandate, and without a robust lobbying register in place in Westminster.” Alexandra Runswick
Jeremy Hunt announced he was a trip to the states while stateside in New York which sparked the concern that UK ministers seek to increase the involvement of US private insurers in the English health service.
Although the Scottish health service is a reserved matter, it is still liable to be affected by budget constraints south of the border or structural changes to the way that health is funded.
US insurers are infamous for focusing rigidly on profit rather than on the sustainable care of the service of patients. In the American healthcare system, known for its high expenses, has care often dictated by cost rather than the publically funded system which is free at the point of use in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
A US insurance company, Kaiser Permanente, has been advising the NHS how to run itself better since 2004. In 2004, the British medical journal published a paper called “Making the NHS more like Kaiser Permanente” which advocated ensure the NHS involved more private companies and became an efficient service drawing from “expertise in the US”.
Another company called Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) has worked in the NHS since 2006 as HCA NHS Ventures, and creates private care facilities for private patients in the UK.
With capital funds of over $28bn it is one of the biggest healthcare facility companies in the US and lobbies for a greater role of private companies participation in all UK-wide NHS services.
“Sending the UK Health Secretary to the US to explore possible links sends only one message – that the NHS is up for grabs.” Clare Haughey, MSP
Speaking to CommonSpace Alexandra Runswick, a spokesperson for the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT), said: “We know that international health corporations want a slice of the NHS, and the UK government is giving the impression that they will do any deal to appease President Trump. Our NHS is potentially on the negotiating table, and without a robust lobbying register in place we simply do not know what kinds of deals will be struck behind closed doors, away from public and parliamentary scrutiny.”
“It is deeply concerning that the government could sell off our public services without a mandate, and without a robust lobbying register in place in Westminster, the £2bn lobbying industry is completely opaque and devoid of accountability. Although Scotland is leading the way in lobbying transparency, and will soon be implementing a comprehensive statutory register, until a robust lobbying register is set up to capture the activities of lobbyists in Westminster, they can and will continue to operate in the shadows.”
The UK Department of Health, when contacted by CommonSpace, offered further comment to explain the purpose behind what they called a “research visit” but failed to respond when asked a second time.
Last week, the Scottish Government sealed a deal on the budget with the Scottish Greens which saw increases for local council health services and what the government said was “a guarantee on free prescriptions”. Scottish Labour have criticised the Scottish Government for what it calls “real term cuts” to NHS services whether national or local.
Picture courtesy of Mark Ramsay
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