TTIP (Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership) would be NHS privatisation on amphetamine, a 360 degree plan and once allowed in, would close the door in on itself and throw away the key.
TTIP talks have been alarmingly secretive and it’s about much more than trade. There are not really major trade barriers between the US and EU, some tariffs that could be reduced maybe.
What it boils down to is a corporate wish list for access to untapped markets and the attenuation of standards, regulations and access rights, many of which have been fought for over many decades: workers rights, food standards, financial regulations, healthcare services and so on. In short anything that is prohibitive to profit could face the chop.
One part in particular is of great concern, the toxic 'investor-state dispute settlement' (ISDS) which allows big corporations to throw their toys out of the pram if they don't get what they want and accordingly sue governments. There are numerous examples from numerous countries where this kind of mechanism exists and has been enacted.
An example from the health sector has occurred in Poland. The Polish government was sued under the ‘Netherlands-Poland investment protection treaty by a multinational investor in health insurance (Eureko) to the tune of €1.8billion, including a commitment for further privatization of the formerly government owned health insurance company PZU. The government's crime was to stand in the way of Euroko’s profit making potential by refusing to float shares of PZU on the stock exchange.
More - TTIP also envisions the establishment of a 'Regulatory Cooperation Council'. Big Business has been lobbying for this for years. It basically means that corporations can 'nip in the bud' government policy, stuff that would potentially be a corporate inconvenience would never progress past the proposal stage. If it did then there is the previously mentioned 'investor-state dispute settlement'. A thorough 'stitch-up'
The NHS is a world renown symbol, an institution that represents such notions as people over profit, cooperation over corporations. A thorn in the cold heart of neoliberalism. TTIP would signal the beginning of a rapid shift, a corporate power grab and the realization of neoliberal shock doctrine; the progeny of those no longer living; Friedman, Pinochet and his loyal colleague in arms Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher got the ball rolling with the NHS when the community care act came into fruition in 1990. Labour and Conservative governments are complicit in the gradual movement and developments thus far. We now stand at the precipice, with TTIP, a race to the bottom.
Researching the current conservative PM's contribution makes for painful reading. He said in the Mail in April:
"So many of us have been there. You're in the waiting room as your child goes into the operating theatre. The minutes feel like hours, and the hours go on forever. As you wait for news, a nurse comes to put your mind at rest, reassuring you that your child is in the best possible hands. And in that moment you feel overwhelming gratitude towards our National Health Service."
TTIP adds the muscle to the bones as it were. There is a risk that if ISDS were applied to the NHS, that repealing the Health and Social Care Act would be deemed to be in breach of the free-trade agreement. It would be set in stone.
Although any current talk of a move toward “harmony” between the US health system and the NHS doesn’t come at a particularly good time for the free marketeers; given that the NHS has just been declared the world's best healthcare system by the Washington-based Commonwealth Fund, and the US the worst.
Current talk however, there has been. The right wing think tank ‘Reform’ have released a report regarding the benefits of moving the UK health system in the direction of the US system. Incidentally David Cameron’s chief health advisor Nick Seddon, a private healthcare advocate, was a chief lobbyist for Reform before walking the corridors at no 10. In itself a cause for enormous concern.
Despite his sweet sweet words regarding the NHS, David Cameron has said of TTIP that :
“It is a once in a lifetime prize”
“I am not aware of a specific exemption for any particular area, but I think that the health service would be treated in the same way in relation to EU-US negotiations as it is in relation to EU rules”
Furthermore, with Cameron in NHS spin salesman mode:
“We should not be frightened of our NHS being a great British success story, parts of which can be exported to the rest of the world"
The good news is that the fight against TTIP is taking off.
The Royal College of Nurses are leading the way with the fight back to protect the NHS: Gay Lee, of the Inner South East London branch proposed the following resolution to congress:
“That this meeting of RCN Congress urges Council to lobby against the inclusion of health services in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)”
“If health is not excluded, then it could be traded in the same way as baked beans or energy - The NHS is not about making money but about putting patients first. That’s what we all love about it.”
“I would suggest that a couple of months ago the vast majority of you would never have heard of TTIP. But this is one of the biggest threats to the NHS that there has been”
“This needs to be done in an open and transparent way with full public engagement. There have to be red lines that can’t be crossed - and the NHS is one of those red lines. TTIP will have wider irreversible implications for all of us in our working lives. We’re being kept in the dark and we have to stop it”
Against: 2.84% (13) and 14 abstained.
Its not quite 100%. There will always be ‘outliers’ As is reflected by the London nurse Andy Mcgovern who made the papers yesterday having proposed a £10 fee for GP visits (A suggestion that was overwhelmingly defeated) There will always be these moments where founding principles of the NHS need to be defended, in this case free access at the point of use.
A national day of action looks to have good support for July 12th, uniting activists, unions, environmentalists, health campaigners, food campaigners etc. A convergence representing the vastness of the power shift that TTIP represents.
There are no signs that public support is dipping for the NHS, despite the constant ideological heckling it receives in the Murdoch papers. The report by the Washington based commonwealth fund that places the NHS as the best healthcare provider in the world is a great and much needed tonic, for both service users and workers. It is also a much needed lift as the next big fight, the fight against TTIP gets underway.
Pssst - They don't want us to, but it really is time we talked TTIP (aka dances with corporotocracy)
A version of this article was first published at Open Democracy/Our NHS