MORE than 400 NHS and public health professionals have signed an open letter to every MP calling for the NHS to be protected from any post-Brexit trade deals.

The letter, which comes as parliament is set to debate the latest stage of the Trade Bill on July 20, calls for parliament to amend the bill, claiming that if it doesn’t, “the NHS will be on the table in future trade deals”.

The bill has come under fire as it contains nothing to protect British food standards, denies MPs “the most basic powers of scrutiny” and blocks the public from being able to follow negotiations, which are to be held behind closed doors.

In fact, key documents from the US trade deal currently being discussed won’t even be published until five years after the deal has been made.

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In the letter, the health professionals claim that failing to protect the NHS from trade deals would open up the health service to being charged more for drugs, enshrine the rights of American healthcare companies to access the NHS in international treaties and “lock in” privatisation that would be incredibly difficult for a future government to reverse.

Among the signatories are senior and high profile figures from the health service, health publishing and academia, including the editor-in-chief of the medical journal The Lancet, Richard Horton, and the President of the Faculty of Public Health, Professor Maggie Rae.

Dr Sarah Walpole, the junior doctor who wrote the letter, said: “In the UK, we take it for granted that we won’t go bankrupt paying for medical treatment. Covid-19 has shown us the importance of healthcare being accessible to all, and the value of our NHS and public health system.

The National:

“The Trade Bill in its current form leads the way towards ongoing fragmentation and marketisation of UK health services and higher drug prices, a path which the NHS may not survive.

“If services are contracted out to private companies through trade deals, this may be irreversible due to international law.

“We are calling on MPs to protect the NHS by voting for amendments to the Trade Bill that exclude health services from future trade deals.”

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Keep Our NHS Public and public ownership campaign group We Own It, which has been calling for the NHS to be excluded from trade deals for the past year, helped to coordinate the open letter.

We Own It director Cat Hobbs said: “At a time when we’re relying on our health service more than ever before, it’s beyond shocking that the government would pass legislation that could see our NHS be carved up and sold off.

“Boris Johnson’s warm words aren’t enough.

“We can’t wish away the threat that trade deals pose to our NHS. Instead, what we need is concrete protection.

“To make matters worse, right now we not only don’t have this protection, but parliament isn’t being given the most basic powers of scrutiny on trade deals. That means neither MPs, nor the public will be able to see what is being included, and how our NHS will be affected.

“MPs debating the Trade Bill must listen to the public and stand up for our treasured NHS. At the very least, they must back Jonathan Djanogly’s amendment to allow parliament to scrutinise future trade deals. If they don’t, their constituents won’t forgive, and they won’t forget.”

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A series of amendments are being submitted to the Trade Bill, including one from Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly which would give parliament the power to scrutinise and vote on future trade deals - a power they currently don’t have.

Nearly 4000 people have written to their MP asking them to support this amendment.

More than 1.2 million people have signed a petition from Keep Our NHS Public calling for the government to protect the NHS from trade deals.

The full letter can be read here, where any health professionals who wish to add their name to the list of signatories may do so.