Government promises to protect NHS in US trade talks

Posted On: 
19th May 2018

International trade minister Greg Hands has promised to protect the NHS from US attempts to force the service to pay more for prescription drugs. 

International trade minister Greg Hands has said that UK citizens will be protected from higher drug prices
Credit: 
PA Images

NHS England, which already spends £16 billion per year on prescription drugs, could be forced to pay higher prices by the US government under the terms of any future trade deal. 

Speaking to The Times, Mr Hands said that the NHS would be protected in any future trade agreement with the US. 

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‘I think the most important thing to understand, with all trade agreements, is that no trade agreement prevents a country from having the domestic right to regulate’ he said. 

‘We have always been clear that, in all trade agreements, the NHS will be protected.’ 

Accusing other countries of ‘freeloading’, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC that the government would force foreign health services to pay higher prices for prescription drugs. 

‘The reason why they are getting better net prices than we get is their socialised system’ he said. 

‘On the foreign side we need to, through our trade negotiations and agreements, pressure them.’

‘And so we pay less, they pay more. It shouldn’t be a one-way ratchet. We all have some skin in this game.’ 

David Henig, who worked on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as assistant director of the Department for International Trade, said that the NHS could face sustained pressure from the US pharmaceutical lobby during trade negotiations. 

‘The threat of higher drug prices is a real threat to the National Health Service is a real threat because the American pharmaceutical companies have always felt threatened by its power and influence in setting drug prices’ Mr Henig told The Times.

‘Rather than telling us blandly that the NHS is safe from trade agreements the government needs to engage with stakeholders on the detail of what should and should not be in trade agreements.’