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Don’t let TTIP deliver the fatal blow to the NHS

Don’t let TTIP deliver the fatal blow to the NHS

By Geoff Dunbar 

I’m old enough to have heard adults talking of the pre-NHS days when you had to pay the doctor for your health care. When I was about 7, I was taken to Casualty. I had a badly broken arm and was quite distressed. And I still remember vividly the kindness and reassurance of the nurse who spoke to me. When she found out that my tears were because I hadn’t passed my first aid test, she told me that I needn’t worry because she had passed hers.

I’m sure you can tell similar stories that underpin the high regard that people in this country have for this institution and its staff. OK, I know that it has not always been perfect. Mistakes have been made in the past that have left some feeling bereft and deeply hurt. The NHS has had to learn from experience and improve how it cares for the people who cross its threshold. It has been a long journey. And what seems to me to be quite remarkable is that in its slow demise over the last 30 years, when those who claimed to be its guardians; those who proclaimed “The NHS is safe with us” or “We won’t impose any top down changes to the NHS” have secretly undermined and betrayed her founder’s vision; have sought to deceive the electorate, you and me, as their so-called reforms and innovative measures have covered up the truth. Their behaviour bears strikingly similar characteristics to those suffering from Munchausen by proxy. They have ‘cared’ for the NHS, but in the ‘drip’ they provided was no healing, it delivered a poison that has been gradually sucking the life out of the NHS.

But now I want to turn to the title of this piece - TTIP. This stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. If you haven’t heard about it, it is not surprising. Those doing the secretive negotiations didn’t want us to know about it. Along with the equivalent negotiation taking place in the Pacific region (TPP), it represents a monumental threat to democracy. It’s as serious as it can get. TTIP is intended to lock Europe and the USA into a trade agreement, and it contains the last dose of poison to finish off the NHS.

So who is behind these talks? The European lead is being given by the EU Trade Commissioner and his staff. Heavily influenced by lobbyists such as the powerful European Round Table of Industrialists and enthusiastically supported by Transnational Financial Services Sector (those who had something to do with the financial mess that triggered the ruthless austerity measures that the coalition is wedded to),the Trade Commission writes its own terms of reference for the talks which are ratified by the European Parliament. From the outset its democratic credentials are virtually zero.

So, why am I talking about a Trade Treaty when I started talking about the NHS? Well, it is what the corporate lobby want to include in the agreement that is the problem.

One of the key aims of the talks is to remove regulations and tariffs that are seen as barriers to trade.  That might sound innocuous, until you realise that the process being advocated is one of ‘harmonization’. While no one would argue against removing petty regulation, what we are talking about here is anything but petty. Many of the rules and regulations in Europe designed to protect the interests and health of its people are of a much higher standard than those across the Atlantic. So for Europe this represents a downward spiral. It could see, for example GM foods being forced on to the European marketplace.

One other target of TTIP is public procurement (government spending).

So, if the UK government decided on a major infrastructure scheme to safeguard rail access through Devon and Cornwall and wanted this investment to be a stimulus to the local economy and the UK construction sector, any hint of preferential treatment of UK citizens or industry would lay them open to something called Investor State Dispute Settlement .

ISDS, is the mechanism that will allow corporations to sue governments for all profits lost as a result of any government action. These disputes are heard in secret by panels of three ‘trade’ lawyers and judged only on the values of ‘free trade’ with no consideration of social, environmental or human rights. Despite reassurances from the EU, this part of the treaty will allow undemocratic corporations to override the authority of democratically elected governments. This has the potential to be every bit as toxic as the venom of all the poisonous snakes in the world put together.

There are examples that can be seen that confirm the influence of this dispute mechanism. I will just outline one. In Australia the government decided that as a matter of public health tobacco products would have to be sold in plain packaging. Step up the large tobacco company, Philip Morris, to challenge this legislation and a secret tribunal will decide (almost certainly against the government). The Australian government with then either have to pay out millions in compensation or remove the legislation. (I seem to remember Cameron wanted to do the same in this country but later withdrew the plan for plain packaging of tobacco products).

Any government action that favours their own population, however well justified their action is, can be challenged in this way if ISDS is enshrined in the treaty.

ISDS is a gateway for the corporate world to access every part of UK life where they think there is a profit to be made. Westminster will become even more of a ‘puppet’, dancing to the ‘corporate tune’.

As President of the G8, David Cameron showed his enthusiasm for TTIP. Is this the same David Cameron who goes on the television and puts on his grim determined face and tries to talk tough about protecting the sovereignty of the UK Parliament? Unfortunately both stances are utterly incompatible. George Monbiot in an article he wrote last November included this quote from a corporate lawyer who sits on the ISDS tribunals:

"When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all ... Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament."

All of which brings me back to health. It’s no accident that the Health & Social Care Act was pushed through as forcefully as it was. Now fragmented, the NHS is ripe for picking. If TTIP goes through, especially with ISDS, it will mean a field day for the transnational health and health insurance companies. If governments are unable to prevent transnationals overriding social, environmental concerns and human rights, what chance do our GPs in the CCGs (Clinincal Commissioning Groups) stand? Unless we act to exempt it from TTIP, the NHS will become a lifeless corpse.


Reading material:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/02/transatlantic-free-trade-deal-regulation-by-lawyers-eu-us   (24 January 2014)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/corporate-europe-observatory-transnational-institute/transatlantic-corporate-bill-of-rights  (21 Jan 2014)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/linda-kaucher/upcoming-eu-us-and-eu-canada-trade-deals-have-serious-implications-for-nhs  (23 Jan 2014)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/ashman/nhs-must-be-exempted-from-useu-free-trade-agreement  (23 Jan 2014)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/openeconomy/magda-stoczkiewicz-erich-pica/eu-and-us-both-threatened-by-secret-trade-talks  (24 Jan 2014)

http://waysandmeans.house.gov/uploadedfiles/eizenstat_testimony.pdf  (26 Jan 2014)

http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/jasonhickel/2013/12/19/free-trade-and-the-death-of-democracy/  (15 Jan 2014)

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-28/george-democracy-in-danger-the-rise-of-illegitimate-authority/4917518  (30 Jan 2014)

http://www.boell.org/web/index-1187.html   (1 Feb 2014)

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/06/david-cameron-eu-us-trade-deal-investor-state-dispute-settlement  (6 Feb 2014)

If you want to learn more about betrayal of the NHS there is plenty of literature out there. I have found 3 particular books very helpful and readable: ‘NHS SOS’ edited by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis, ‘The Plot Against the NHS’ by Colin Leys and Stewart Player and ‘NHS plc’ by Allyson Pollock.


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