As Theresa May engages in her first diplomatic relations with the United States since Donald Trump was confirmed as president, the Prime Minister has declined to rule out the involvement of US corporations in British healthcare.
May is spending time in the United States, working on a potential trade deal between the two nations, and was pointedly asked about the future of the NHS.
The Prime Ministers stated her commitment to an NHS free at the point of delivery, but would make no commitment regarding whether the health service would be included in future talks.
While conversation with the newly-elected Trump will be far-reaching, the trading relationship between the two nations will undoubtedly be high on the agenda.
May is currently visiting Philadelphia and Washington DC in her first major overseas sojourn since becoming prime minister.
Asked whether health services might form a part of a potential deal, May stated that “we’re at the start of the process of talking about a trade deal. We’re both very clear that we want a trade deal. It will be in the interests of the UK from my point of view, that’s what I’m going to be taking in, into the trade discussions that take place in due course. Obviously he will have the interests of the US. I believe we can come to an agreement that is in the interests of both. As regards the NHS, we’re very clear as a Government that we’re committed to an NHS that is free at the point of use.”
The ambiguous statement opened up the possibility that US firms could become more centrally involved in the British healthcare system.
Yet a spokesman on behalf of 10 Downing Street moved quickly to deny the idea that the NHS could be involved in any future trade deals.
“The NHS will never be part of a trade deal and will always remain free at the point of delivery.”
However, Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron treated the refusal to make clear statements about the NHS with derision.
“The public were told Brexit would mean another £350m a week for the NHS, not that our health service would be opened up to US firms. Theresa May must immediately clarify that the NHS will not be up for sale in any future negotiations with Trump. Hollowing out our health service in the name of a trade deal with the US would be an utter betrayal of most of those who voted to leave the EU.”
Of particular concern will be opposition within the Brexit camp to the sort of trade deals exemplified by TTIP.