The BMA has urged all candidates hoping to be the next prime minister and leader of the Conservative party to commit to excluding the NHS from trade deals in light of Brexit.
In a letter sent today, on the same day US president Donald Trump declared at a joint press conference with prime minister Theresa May that the NHS would be ‘on the table’ in trade talks, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul urged candidates to commit to ‘explicit safeguards for the health service against the dangers posed by Brexit’.
President Trump’s comments follow statements by the US ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson saying that the health service would form part of trade negotiations between the two nations.
Dr Nagpaul wrote: ‘The BMA is asking all candidates to take every possible step to avoid a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. We have repeatedly warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit will have damaging consequences for patients, the health workforce and health services…. no part of the NHS will be left unscathed by a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
‘We are asking you to commit to excluding the NHS from any future trade agreements if the UK leaves the EU. Patients and NHS staff – indeed, anyone who cares about our health service – will understandably be alarmed by recent comments from the US ambassador that the NHS should be ‘on the table’ as part of a future trade deal.
‘We have an unequivocal message for the next Conservative leader and future prime minister: profit should never take priority over the protection of the health service and the healthcare of citizens.’
Dr Nagpaul concluded the letter with: ‘I do not believe that anyone who cast their vote in the EU referendum was voting for an impoverished or weakened health service, or for a situation in which thousands of highly skilled EU NHS staff would consider leaving the NHS. Now that more is known about the impact that Brexit will have on the UK and on health services specifically, it’s vital that the public can have the final say.’
The Welsh Government has also spoken up in defence of the Welsh NHS, following president Trump’s words earlier today.
In a joint statement, the health minister and the international relations minister agreed that their NHS would not be part of any US-UK trade deal.
Health minister Vaughan Gething said: ‘The Welsh NHS is a public service that was born in Wales, and it will remain a public service under this Welsh Government.
‘And in Wales, under this Government, it will continue to be a much loved and cherished service that puts people, not profit, first.’
Minister for international relations Eluned Morgan added: ‘The Welsh NHS is a public service, and under this Welsh Government, will remain so.
‘I have made absolutely clear to the UK Government’s international trade secretary, Liam Fox, that devolution must be respected in any new trade deals post-Brexit. That includes the UK Government respecting the Welsh Government’s determination to preserve the NHS as a public service.
‘So, there is absolutely no prospect whatsoever of us allowing the Welsh NHS to be part of any negotiation on a new trade deal with the USA. It is simply not going to happen.’
Meanwhile, health secretary Matt Hancock yesterday announced his advocacy for free movement for doctors for all countries if his bid to be the new prime minister is succesful.
His comments coincided with the publication of the NHS’ interim People’s Plan, which too stated an increased effort to recruit overseas doctors.
Mr Hancock also responded to president Trump’s comments, posting on social media: ‘Dear Mr President. The NHS isn’t on the table in trade talks – and never will be. Not on my watch.’
Two days previously, he stated: ‘My American friends, know this: The NHS is not for sale. Yes we’d love to make it cheaper to buy your life-saving pharmaceuticals – but the NHS will not be on the table in any future trade talks.’