“Despite the overwhelming public pressure, the government is still sticking to its guns. In July, the House of Commons passed a Trade Bill which offers no protection for the NHS whatsoever.”Cat Hobbs, We Own It.
Twelve months ago, We Own It started campaigning to protect our NHS from trade deals. Boris Johnson was in Number 10, Donald Trump in the White House, and the US private healthcare industry were licking their lips at the prospect of getting even more access to NHS services. Along with a coalition of other organisations – including Global Justice Now, Keep Our NHS Public and the Trade Justice Movement, we saw it was abundantly clear that without a fight, the government would do nothing to ensure our health service was kept “off the table” despite their repeated reassurances.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have taken action to ensure our NHS is defended. They’ve written to their MPs, they’ve signed petitions, lobbied the House of Lords, participated in stunts outside parliament, and so on and so on.
Despite the overwhelming public pressure, the government is still sticking to its guns. In July, the House of Commons passed a Trade Bill which offers no protection for the NHS whatsoever. MPs were given the opportunity to vote for an amendment which would have ensured the NHS was protected, but the Tories decided to line up and vote it down. Worse still, the overwhelming majority of Tory MPs voted down an amendment which would have given parliament the right to scrutinise and vote on any trade deals the government agrees to in the future.
Outside of the technicalities of parliamentary procedure, this has real and worrying consequences. With the Trade Bill containing no specific protections for our NHS, the health service as we know it is under direct threat. Higher drug prices. Increased access to NHS services for the American private healthcare industry. Privatisation that’s “locked in” to trade treaties that will be exceptionally difficult for future governments to unpick. All the while, the government would be given carte blanche to sign whatever deals it likes without parliament or the public ever getting sight of the details.
The public understand this threat. 75% of them want to see the Trade Bill amended so there are specific protections for our NHS. Only 30% believe Boris Johnson when he says that the NHS is “off the table” in trade deals. And nearly 300,000 people have signed the petition calling on the House of Lords to put NHS protection into the Trade Bill.
So right now the Tories aren’t on the side of the public, and they’re definitely not on the side of public opinion. They’re on the side of the private healthcare industry eyeing up our health service. They’re on the side of Donald Trump and American pharmaceutical companies. And they’re on the side of those who have long wanted to see the death of a public NHS.
In the coming weeks, We Own It will be ramping up the pressure on the government. We’re committed to making sure that the NHS is taken off the table once and for all, and if the government refuses, to ensuring that the public don’t forgive, and won’t forget.
The heroic effort of our NHS and all of its fantastic staff during the coronavirus pandemic, even in spite of decades of cuts, underfunding and backdoor privatisation, has shown just how vital and precious a public health service really is. With the biggest threat to its existence lurking just around the corner, it’s incumbent on us all to fight to save it. The first step in that is to add your name to the petition – and keep an eye on our website, Facebookand Twitter for the next stage of the campaign.