Scottish Government seek assurance over NHS future

Health secretary Alex Neil has heralded the news. Picture: Julie Bull
Health secretary Alex Neil has heralded the news. Picture: Julie Bull
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The UK government has refused to rule out the prospect of the NHS “going down the privatisation route” under a controversial European Union deal, MSPs were told yesterday.

The Scottish Government is now demanding “cast-iron assurances” that a new EU-US trade agreement will not allow major American firms to muscle their way in to providing NHS services.

The claim came as the Green-Independent group at Holyrood called on the SNP government to oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), branding it a “power grab by private corporations which threatens the NHS”.

Critics have warned that the deal – still being negotiated – could pave the way for US multi-nationals to sue UK or Scottish governments if they try to freeze the private sector out of the NHS under a clause that allows them to litigate if governments jeopardise their profits.

Scottish enterprise minister Fergus Ewing told MSPs the SNP government had discussed TTIP at ministerial meetings with the UK government in March and earlier this month.

Health secretary Alex Neil has also written to UK counterpart Jeremy Hunt to raise “concerns about the impact of TTIP on the Scottish NHS”.

Mr Ewing said: “Officials are actively engaging UK government officials about the progress of the negotiations and potential implications for Scotland.”

He said assurances had been sought from the European Commission and UK government. He said the EC response had been “encouraging”.

However, he said the UK government had failed to give an “unequivocal assurance” that the NHS would not be left open to such litigation. He added: “That is something on which we are still seeking cast-iron assurances.”

TTIP has raised concerns across Europe, with demonstrations this month in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the UK.

The five-strong group of Green-Independent MSPs yesterday called on Alex Salmond to tackle the TTIP threat.

“TTIP is a power grab by private corporations which threatens the NHS,” Green MSP Alison Johnstone said. “I urge the First Minister to press the case.”

The UK government says TTIP will create jobs and growth by reducing tariffs, harmonising regulations and making it easier for Britain to trade with the US.

Business Secretary Vince Cable recently wrote to all MPs to say concerns over investment-protection measures in the treaty were “misplaced”.