Thursday, 7 August 2014
Lancaster residents call on Prime Minister to exempt NHS from trade deal
Proposals which could allow US healthcare companies bid for contracts to run NHS services at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary have been given the thumbs-down by local residents.
Nearly three quarters of over 200 people surveyed in the Lancaster and Fleetwood parliamentary constituency said the NHS should be excluded from a new EU-US trade agreement.
The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, much of it being discussed in secret and which has been described as a full frontal assault on democracy by the Guardian's George Monbiot, widely aims to make trade between Europe and the United States easier - but the whole agreement has raised alarm bells among numerous campaign groups across Europe, including civil society groups and charities such as War on Want, and environmental groups opposing fracking.
The main goal of TTIP is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.
War on Want points out these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on Genetically Modified crops etc), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. The stakes, in other words, could not be higher.
If the NHS is included as part of the deal, private healthcare companies in the US would be guaranteed the right to bid to run NHS services. If a future UK government tried to stop the practice, US healthcare firms could then take legal action due to the lost business opportunities.
The union Unite, which is opposing the inclusion of the NHS in the TTIP, asked people in Lancaster and Fleetwood for their views during a telephone survey about voting intentions ahead of the 2015 General Election.
More than 71 per cent of people surveyed said Prime Minister David Cameron should exclude the NHS from TTIP, while little more than seven per cent supported its inclusion. Just over 21 per cent of people said they weren’t sure.
Cat Smith, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood (the L, said: “People in Lancaster and Fleetwood are sending a clear message to David Cameron that he should put the safety of local patients ahead of fat profits for trans-Atlantic multinationals.
The Labour Party is not opposing TTIP as a whole but is arguing for an NHS opt out.
“The Tory-led Coalition’s Health and Social Care Act is already putting our precious NHS at risk by allowing private companies to compete for contracts.
“Including the NHS in TTIP could make this situation even worse. Imagine a company boss in California or a manager in Massachusetts being accountable for local health services here in Lancaster.
“The Prime Minister needs to make a clear commitment to excluding the NHS from this deal and re-think his Government’s damaging health reforms.”
When asked who they would vote for at next year’s General Election, 26.7 per cent of survey respondents in Lancaster and Fleetwood said they would back Labour, with the Tories on 17.6 per cent and the Greens on 9.1 per cent. Nearly a quarter of residents (22.6 per cent) were undecided.
Supporters of the TTIP, who include former Tory minister Ken Clarke, argue the project is good for the UK. "According to the best estimates available, an ambitious deal would see our economy grow by an extra £10bn per annum," he claimed last November. According to the Munich-based IFO institute, the treaty will create up to 400, 000 new jobs in Europe.
The telephone survey involved 202 people chosen at random.
• TTIP - EU Information Page
• Where the political parties stand on TTIP
• George Monbiot: This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy
• Ken Clarke: This EU-US trade deal is no 'assault on democracy'
• Politics UK: The EU-US treaty which enforces privatisation
• American Chamber of Commerce - Notes on the TTIP