Wednesday 27 November 2019

Our NHS for sale?

When we leave the EU (and I think it's going to happen), we will be without any trade deals. Our army of experienced trade negotiators (which we do not have, because we haven't done a trade deal for 50 years) will be left to set them up.

And since Boris has set a deadline of six months to do it (haven't we learned yet that setting unrealistic deadlines in negotiations is just making a rod for our own back?) they'd better move fast.

The EU will be fairly easy. They'll want products exported to the EU to meet EU safety standards, and that should be easy because the currently do. Unless we lower our safety standards ...

But what about the USA?

We are at a huge disadvantage in that negotiation, because we need that deal a LOT more than they do. Trump talks about a "great trade deal", and I believe him. Great for them.

So what will they want?

1. Access to our market for agricultural products, and we'll have to lower our food safety standards to allow that. CDC estimates Salmonella causes about 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year. And in the UK?
In England and Wales in 2016, there were 8,630 confirmed cases compared with 8,558 in 2015.  There's five times as many people as in the USA, and 150 times as many Salmonella cases.

2. A better deal on drugs prices. Currently, the NHS (via NICE) refuses to buy drugs unless their efficacy is above a level they fix each year. The USA will want that stopped.

3. A better deal on drugs patents. Most drugs are developed by a pharmaceutical company, who then has a monopoly on that drug for a eriod of time. But that patent expires, and then anyone can make and sell the drug, and the price falls substantially. 

When Trump was asked "Is the NHS on the table for trade deals?" he answered "Everything is on the table". Obviously he hadn't a clue what the letters NHS stood for and what that meant. But I still think that will be the attitude, and if we want a trade deal with the USA (and our government will desperately want a deal) then on the table it will go.

So. Suppose we lower our safety standards for eggs, so that we'll be able to import all those cheap US eggs and all that lovely Salmonella. We won't be able to re-export them to the EU, because they won't meet EU safety standards. 

But why would we want to re-export eggs that we just imported? Because eggs are a common ingredient in various products, such as mayonnaise, and cake, and if the eggs have Salmonella, so will the products. So exports to the EU will suddenly require proof that the ingredients also met the safety standards, and how will we do that?

Healthcare in the USA costs at least twice as much as in the UK, and a large factor in that is the costs of drugs. If those costs rise, then that will drain cash out of the NHS, giving it to the US pharmaceutical companies.

We don't need to sell the NHS to the USA for them to suck it dry.

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