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article imageDoes Brexit mean a U.S. healthcare model for the U.K.?

By Tim Sandle     Nov 11, 2019 in Politics
One of the hotly discussed topics in relation to Britain’s exit from the European Union is whether the planned trade deal with the U.S. will lead to the precious National Health Service being partly subsumed by U.S. private healthcare.
Concerns that parts of the NHS could become open to takeover by U.S. healthcare corporations have been raised by the leader of the U.K. opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, as part of the build-up towards the U.K.’s General Election. Corbyn has accused the Conservative Party of planning a deal to increase medicine prices with Donald Trump. Also flagged as a concern is a further expansion of private companies into the health sphere.
The British NHS has the principle of providing healthcare free at the point of delivery, with the service funded through general taxation. Prescriptions are either provided free or at a substantial subsidy, depending upon a person’s income or employment status.
Jeremy Corbyn has said that he fears the Conservatives are planning a deal with Donald Trump, as part of a wider trade deal with the U.S. in the post-Brexit world, which could see the NHS paying U.S. prices for essential medicines, potentially at a cost of £500 million per week.
This figure is drawn from an academic study from Liverpool University, which models NHS bill for medicines, charting the cost of providing medicines to be hitting £45 billion a year (up from its current £18 billion per year). This is based on data which suggests that medicines in the U.S. free-market model cost about 2.5 times more than they currently do in the U.K.
There is a connection between Trump discussing how countries outside the U.S. need to pay more for medicines, contending that many regions of the world, in trying to drive down costs, are not fairly contributing to the cost of pharmaceutical drug development. Trump went as far as to call such countries “global freeloaders”.
Corbyn’s assertion, and the university study, has been dismissed as “fantasy” by the Conservative Party’s Michael Gove.
However, despite Gove’s dismissive comment, according to PharmaPhorum, NHS managers are similarly concerned about what any kind of deal with Trump might contain and the supply and cost impact upon the NHS.
In the speech Corbyn said, with reference to Conservative Party leader and incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “Johnson stood in front of a bus and promised £350m a week for the NHS. Now we find out that £500m a week could be taken out of the NHS and handed to big drugs companies under his plans for a sell-out trade deal with Donald Trump.”
The Labour veteran also stated: “We now know that U.S. and U.K. officials have been discussing drug pricing in secret and the U.S. government is demanding ‘full market access for US products.’ Senior NHS managers have said that would mean ‘higher prices for medicines’ which will ‘pass on costs to both patients and the NHS’.”
The current mechanism for the price of medicines in the U.K. is subject to an agreement with pharmaceutical companies. This agreement ends in 2023, after which in the probable event that Brexit will have happened, the price of medicines could fall under a U.S trade deal.
In this context, Michael Gove in his ‘fantasy’ charge against Corbyn would only commit to there not being a U.S.-triggered price hike to medicines in the near future.
More about Health, Healthcare, Drug prices, Medicines, Trump
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