A rush to secure international trade deals post-Brexit could open the NHS up to “creeping privatisation”, top doctors have warned.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned of the health service being “auctioned off to the highest bidder” if a so-called no-deal Brexit happens.
The BMA is calling on the Government to exclude the NHS from free trade deals after Britain leaves the European Union to prevent the outsourcing of NHS contracts to overseas companies.
BMA Council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “First and foremost, the NHS must be taken off the table entirely.
“Our public health service cannot be dismantled and auctioned off to the highest bidder bit by bit to plug holes in the country’s finances caused by a poorly-judged political decision.
“If healthcare provision is not excluded from future trade agreements, it would risk sections of the NHS being outsourced to private companies based abroad, further contributing to the worrying increase in publicly-funded care being delivered by the independent sector.”
The BMA warned that international trade deals could enable private companies to block policies and health initiatives which threatened to limit their profits. The situation could also “weaken current high safety standards, including the animal welfare and environmental safety standards for food items”, the doctors’ union said.
Dr Nagpaul added: “We must not allow any future deals to dictate Britain’s ability to improve the health and wellbeing of its citizens, but many agreements include clauses that could do just that.
“Such clauses mean companies can sue governments for introducing policies or measures that seek to improve models of care and public health, but in doing so hit investors’ profits.”
The BMA has published its latest briefing paper, titled Beyond Brexit – Internatinal Trade and Health, as the House of Lords prepares to debate the Trade Bill tomorrow.
A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “The Government has been clear that the NHS will continue to be protected. We will not lower food, animal welfare or environmental standards as part of any future free trade agreement.
“The Government should be judged by its actions rather than rhetoric.”