The Conservative Government has responded to a petition calling for the NHS to be kept out of trade deals with foreign countries, after it accrued more than 50,000 signatures in 15 days.

But the tone of the response leaves much to be desired. Here it is:

The Government is clear – the NHS is and always will be protected in trade deals. Our world-class healthcare sector benefits from international trade and should not be excluded.

It is not in the UK or wider interests to exclude the UK healthcare sector from trade and investment agreements.

Through trade agreements the UK’s world-class pharmaceutical and medical care and devices sectors can benefit from improved access to overseas markets to sell products and bid for government procurement contracts.

The NHS benefits directly from international trade. As an example the UK Government Healthcare UK initiative works to directly promote the UK healthcare sector (including the NHS) abroad and to strengthen the sectors’ capacity to operate and succeed internationally.

Trade deals do not threaten Government policy-making regarding delivery of public services.

Trade and investment agreements do not force Governments to privatise the delivery of any public services. Similarly, such agreements do not prevent governments from introducing new legislation to safeguard public health or safety.

The UK Government is committed in particular to the principles of a NHS, free at the point of use, based on clinical need and not ability to pay.

It will always remain for the UK Government to decide how public services are run and, in particular, who is best placed to provide NHS services on the basis of patient need.

So what the Department for International Trade (not the Department of Health) is saying is that no trade deal will force the privatisation of any part of the National Health Service – but the Conservatives will continue pursuing contracts with foreign healthcare businesses.

Does this not mean that the publicly-funded service will continue being drained of funds to pay for private contractors’ profits, then?

The commitment to a service that is free at the point of use, based on clinical need and not ability to pay is the usual flannel and has been disproved by the recent crisis in NHS England, where services have been restricted to cases of the utmost urgency, with others being nudged towards paying for private treatment.

The petition runs until July 24, by which time it seems certain to have crossed the 100,000-signature barrier allowing it to be considered for discussion in Parliament.

But don’t get your hopes up. Of all the many thousands of petitions that have been launched on the government’s website, only three have ever resulted in positive action.

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