Uncertainty over the impact of a proposed international trade deal is a “growing source of anxiety” among health workers, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.
The college said the NHS needed to be protected from the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.
“Any new trade agreement between the EU and the US must not include health services”
Opponents of the deal have warned it would lead to more NHS services being privatised, a charge strongly denied by the government.
The RCN is writing to the government and to the UK’s MEPs to express its concern about the TTIP’s potential impact on the health service.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The government has failed to make clear how the health service will be protected from the proposed trade deal between the EU and US.
“Health workers, patients and the public want a cast-iron guarantee that TTIP will not leave the NHS vulnerable to privatisation through the back door. Any new trade agreement between the EU and the US must not include health services,” he said.
“It’s also a crucial issue of national sovereignty and democracy that the UK government retains the right to change existing legislation in relation to health services without fear of legal challenge from business interests,” said Mr Carter.
He added: “Politicians in the UK and in the EU must do more to demonstrate that they’ve taken these concerns on board and give assurances that TTIP is not going to open the NHS up to greater privatisation and the increased risk of legal challenge.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The TTIP cannot force European countries to privatise public services and this government would not allow TTIP negotiations to harm the NHS.
Other unions, including Unite, have also been campaigning on the issue and nurse Kathryn Anderson stood as a candidate in April’s European elections for the National Health Action Party over concerns about the trade deal.
However, trade minister Lord Livingston, who is leading negotiations on the deal, has so far suggested the NHS and other public services would not be exempt from TTIP.