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How the EU is making NHS privatisation permanent

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership gives the coalition's health reforms international legal backing.

A man passes in front of the building Berlaymont at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.

No doubt the launch of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in June was cause for much celebration in Brussels. The European Parliament is in the process of enabling a historic shift in world economics with countless, far-reaching consequences.

A key part of the TTIP is 'harmonisation' between EU and US regulation, especially for regulation in the process of being formulated. In Britain, the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act has been prepared in the same vein – to 'harmonise' the UK with the US health system.

This will open the floodgates for private healthcare providers that have made dizzying levels of profits from healthcare in the United States, while lobbying furiously against any attempts by President Obama to provide free care for people living in poverty. With the help of the Conservative government and soon the EU, these companies will soon be let loose, freed to do the same in Britain.

Linda Kaucher is a leading expert on trade agreements. She has written and spoken extensively on the topic, most recently in an article in Chartist. In it, she lays out a disturbing truth about what is going on behind the scenes in Brussels, arguing that while on the surface the EU is a bastion of protections and rights, its true agenda is far more tenebrous.

It is, she says, to "permanently fix corporate-driven neo-liberalism, within the EU and internationally, via trade agreements. Any reassertion of democracy within the EU structure or member states is prevented by legally binding international trade law." She also states that the agenda is "driven and effectively controlled by transnational corporations, especially transnational financial services corporations."

How does this affect the NHS? It’s painfully simple. The agreement will provide a legal heavy hand to the corporations seeking to grind down the health service. It will act as a Transatlantic bridge between the Health and Social Care Act in the UK, which forces the NHS to compete for contracts, and the private companies in the US eager to take it on for their own gain.

Kaucher says: "[The Health and Social Care Act] effectively enforces competitive tendering, and thus privatisation and liberalisation i.e. opening to transnational bidders - a shift to US-style profit-prioritised health provision."

The TTIP ensures that the Health and Social Care Act has influence beyond UK borders. It gives the act international legal backing and sets the whole shift to privatisation in stone because once it is made law, it will be irreversible. Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) laws, fundamentals of the agreement, allow corporations legal protection for their profits regardless of patient care performance, with the power to sue any public sector organisation or government that threatens their interest.

Once these ISDS tools are in place, lucrative contracts will be underwritten, even where a private provider is failing patients and the CCG wants a contract cancelled. In this case, the provider will be able to sue a CCG for future loss of earnings, thanks to the agreement, causing the loss of vast sums of taxpayer money on legal and administrative costs.

Even more worrying is that, once the TTIP is enacted, repealing the Health and Social Care Act in the UK will become almost impossible. As Kaucher explains: "Even if outcomes of the NHS changes are disastrous, ISDS will effectively disallow any attempts by any future UK government to reverse the changes."

'Harmonised' standards favour private companies over public sector providers and the coalition government, the standard bearer of big business, is tirelessly working away to deliver a privatised system to its sponsors. The government claims that in privatising the NHS it will be its 'liberator'. The term even made it into the title of Andrew Lansley’s now infamous report laying out the Conservatives’ plans for the NHS: Liberating the NHS.

This is just more euphemistic language masking sinister intentions. In a 2010 speech Dr Jacky Davis, co-founder of Keep Our NHS Public, said: "Liberating the NHS really means unprecedented cuts, job losses, deniable of accountability and privatisation.

"It means liberating the NHS budget to hand it over to the corporate sector; and among those companies waiting like vultures around a dying animal are the very same companies that spent a million dollars a day in the States lobbying against Obama’s healthcare reforms."

The public need to be aware of this landmark shift and the way it affects them. So why has nothing about the TTIP appeared in the British press and why is the work of the European Parliament and Commission carried out in such a murky, underhand way?

The public has the democratic right to contest the agreement, and fight for a health service that protects them. But how can they when MEPs do nothing to inform opinion or gather support back home? The NHS is in a very precarious position. It seems that soon, with the help of Brussels, its fate will be sealed.

Tags:NHSEU

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