This week saw the completion of the Trade Bill. This has been a long process, one that started back in early 2018, and its laborious passage reflects the controversy that trade will present.
Actually, the Trade Bill is, in itself, fairly uncontentious. It does very little apart from allow the rolling over of EU trade agreements with third countries, and sets up things like the Trade Remedies Authority, and organisation that is there to make sure we protect our interests under agreed trade deals. The one thing that it does that is a bit controversial is to give the power to sign deals to the government with minimal parliamentary oversight.
However, as is always the case with bills passing parliament, there were many amendments and passionate speeches, some of which have resulted in letters to me from constituents. One, that is a recurring theme, is that of supposedly selling off the NHS.
This is one of those strange concepts. There has never, ever been any plan, by any government to sell off the NHS. But people keep putting this idea around. From time to time, when people ask me directly about, I ask them what they mean by it. It is a question that always causes confusion. The fact is, I’m not sure it is possible to sell the NHS even if anyone did want to do it.
The NHS works through around 650 trusts across England (it is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). We have three big ones here in Worcestershire – The Acute Hospitals Trust, The Health and Care Trust, and the Clinical Commissioning Groups. These trusts deliver all our health care and they must do it free to everyone who needs it. However, how they do it is, within tight guidelines and regulations, up to them.
For example, back in 2006, Kidderminster Hospital, in order to deliver knee and hip replacements more effectively, commissioned a company called InterHealth to deliver these operations, in Kidderminster Hospital. To the patient, there was absolutely no change on their experience. But to the trust, there was better use of taxpayer’s money.
The NHS uses all sorts of suppliers of all sorts of things. They buy in drugs, equipment, services, and many other things. If they run out of capacity, they will buy in services from private hospitals. But importantly, only the trust managers can decide what they buy and where from.
So, just to repeat once again, the NHS is not now, nor ever has been, nor ever will be, up for sale.