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Labour clashes with government on ‘NHS for sale’ claims

Government maintains NHS will remain off the table in negotiations

NHS England

Jeremy Corbyn has claimed that drug pricing changes and extending patent life feature prominently in UK-US trade talks, showing that – contrary to government assertions – the NHS is part of the deal. 

The Labour leader says a leaked version of a 451-page dossier previously released in a redacted form by the government shows that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s repeated claims that the NHS is not ‘up for sale’ are false, and that the government is willing to negotiate on NHS access.

The government vehemently denies the claims, which if confirmed would contravene the position laid out in its just-published manifesto.

It insists the documents stem from a preliminary set of talks trying to define the parameters of a free trade deal, and that they simply reveal the already well-defined objectives of the US trade representative.

The NHS will not be on the table when the negotiations start in earnest, it maintains, but it’s not yet clear whether that includes pharmaceutical pricing and patents which could have an impact on the NHS indirectly.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC Today programme this morning that the documents actually show that “the Americans don’t think it is something they are going to ask for…very sensibly because we are crystal clear that it isn’t an area on which we are prepared to give ground”.

He said the Tory manifesto makes it clear that the price the NHS pays for drugs “will not be on the table”, while being forced to defend the willingness of the government to undertake lengthy discussions on pricing in the six meetings, which started in 2017 when Theresa May was PM. He also explicitly ruled out any changes to the existing laws and regulations on patents.

A US trade negotiator is quoted in the document as saying that “there is a lot of conversation on drug prices…and looking at what other countries pay and this is causing angst. There are worries that the US is not getting a good deal in pharmaceutical industries”.

At a news conference convened for the big reveal of the document, Corbyn said that one of the reasons for “US drug prices being on average 250% of those here is a patent regime rigged for the big pharmaceutical companies”.

Meanwhile, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said the documents make it clear that despite its protestations the government is prepared to discuss extending the patent life of drugs and how to achieve “full market access” into the UK – in other words not controlled by NICE.

“Whereas this government has said it is not discussing drug pricing [and] access…these documents make it clear they are discussing just that,” he insisted.

Article by
Phil Taylor

28th November 2019

From: Healthcare

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