Matt Hancock says the NHS isn’t for sale but his previous record for backtracking isn’t convincing people

Andy Gregory
Wednesday 30 October 2019 14:15
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(Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Matt Hancock has spent a busy few days trying to convince everyone that the NHS is not for sale.

Just in time for the general election, Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed that five secret meetings had already been held between senior civil servants and US drug companies ahead of a potential trade deal. Drug "price caps" were reportedly discussed in at least one.

Speaking to a multitude of journalists, health secretary Matt Hancock - who insists he worryingly knew nothing about the meetings – has stuck to his mantra that the NHS is not for sale.

But Mr Hancock has been known to backtrack in the past.

During the Tory leadership bid, he claimed that proroguing parliament would go “against everything that those men who waded onto those beaches fought and died for” and that he “would not have it”.

A short few months later, Mr Hancock, the newly appointed health secretary “didn’t raise any concerns” when Mr Johnson unlawfully suspended parliament.

He reasoned MPs had already spent “over 500 hours” discussing Brexit, which “hasn’t got us anywhere”, and claimed there was a “substantive” difference between the unlawful prorogation and the one he initially warned would spell the end of the Tory party.

Then there was the "largest hospital building programme in a generation".

While it was Mr Johnson, not Mr Hancock who first announced that 40 new hospitals would be built within a decade, the claim kicked off Mr Hancock's department's first major policy launch under his leadership.

Unfortunately, this began to unravel somewhat as the details emerged.

The health secretary was forced to admit to Sky News' Sophie Ridge that actually only six existing hospitals would be rebuilt, while a future government would have to work out how to fund the other 34.

Privatisation is also going on right now, despite his claims otherwise.

While in real terms, the percentage of the NHS budget going to private interests was higher between 2015 and 2017, in 2018/19 the government gave a record £9.2bn to private health care firms, The Guardian reported.

It is also not clear whether this figure includes charitable organisations - which in the current atmosphere operate in a similar fashion to private sector companies, undercutting NHS providers.

After it emerged that currently 20 NHS contracts worth £127m are currently out to tender, Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said:

Since the Tories’ wasteful reorganisation of the NHS we’ve seen privatisation after privatisation of NHS services, breaking up integrated care, costing the taxpayer and leaving a poor quality service for patients.

But Mr Hancock is currently doubling down on his statements saying the NHS will be off the table in any trade negotiations with the US.

Dodging Kay Burley's assertion that he must be furious that meetings between civil servants and US drug companies went on without his knowledge, he then used a past statement by Donald Trump to convince ITV's Shehab Khan that the NHS was off the table.

Presumably he’s talking about the only time Trump has said such a thing – during an interview with Piers Morgan in which he was praised as just about managing to be statesman-like, despite telling Mr Morgan that Adolf Hitler “went through countries like cheese”.

The health secretary also mentioned Liz Truss – under whose watch three illegal arms licenses have been granted to Saudi forces - breaching a court order not to do so.

The trade secretary also admitted there could well have been more illegal licenses agreed with the regime which has fuelled the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with British equipment and military expertise.

While we all hope Mr Hancock is sure that the NHS won't be on the table in future trade talks, many weren't convinced.

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