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How the next UK general election will affect the NHS

Lianna Brinded
Head of Yahoo Finance UK

The fate of Britain’s healthcare service has been in the spotlight amid an impending change in UK government and ongoing Brexit negotiations.

But regardless of whether the UK ends up with a Conservative or Labour majority, the general election will impact the shape of the Brexit deal and therefore the future of the NHS.

Labour is highly protective of the NHS since it is fully funded by the taxpayer and allows anyone to gain services and medicine for little or no cost. 

Any trade deal Labour would make in the event of Brexit is highly unlikely to lead to the NHS being privatised.

However, its approach to Brexit is uncertain — there are conflicting or vague questions over its stance — and any changes to current immigration policies or trade could severely hurt staffing as well as the cost of drugs.

According to the world’s largest job site Indeed, while election manifestos from Britain’s major political parties “make promises to boost the NHS workforce,” analysis of jobs data shows that jobseeker searches for nursing jobs fell by 17.4% between October 2017 and October 2019, suggesting recruiting on a large scale could be challenging.

NHS up for sale?

Protesters wearing masks of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson together with campaigners for keeping the National Health Service (NHS) publicly owned gather outside the Houses of Parliament to demand an end of privatisation of healthcare in the NHS on November 25, 2019 in London, England. Photo: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are led by Boris Johnson who historically has been heavily supportive of a hard Brexit which would mean a hugely negative impact on the NHS due to an increase in trade costs and uncertainty over staffing status. 

But even if Johnson got a Brexit deal through — the question over the NHS’ fate still lingers. 

Johnson has a close relationship with Trump and has voiced eagerness to seal a deal with the US as soon as possible. 

READ MORE: Trump echoes Johnson: NHS not part of US-UK trade deal

Only this week, both Trump and Johnson have taken the time to try and quash any rumours that the NHS is up for sale.

Trump said: “I have nothing to do with it, never even thought about it honestly – we have enough … Look, we are going to have a great healthcare system, we’re doing great heath care work, we’ve got things really running well. If you handed [the NHS] to us on a silver platter, we wouldn't want it. We want nothing to do with it.”

Why people are concerned

But it all comes down to whether voters believe what they are saying is true.

After all, the leader of Britain’s main opposition party Labour — Jeremy Corbyn — claimed he had "proof" the NHS was at risk under a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal between president Donald Trump and current prime minister Boris Johnson.

Corbyn said the 451-page dossier he has in his possession undermines Johnson’s claims that the NHS would not be on the table when it came to trade negotiations with the US.

“The uncensored documents leave Boris Johnson’s denials in absolute tatters,” Corbyn said in a speech. “Mega-corporations see Johnson’s alliance with Trump as a chance to make billions from the illness and sickness of people in this country.”

A Channel 4 investigation earlier this month found the redacted documents suggesting US and UK officials had already discussed drug pricing in initial talks over a future trade deal. Labour appears to have obtained unredacted copies.

READ MORE: Labour claims NHS at risk of privatisation under US-UK trade deal

Johnson said the claims were "nonsense" while the Conservative party manifesto said that neither the price paid for drugs nor NHS services will be "on the table."

Meanwhile, stealth privatisation via the Conservatives is another concern.

New research has shown that under a mainly Conservative government since 2015, £15bn ($19.4bn) of NHS contracts have been handed to private companies — double of the total yearly value since the Tories took office. This is out of £24bn of outsourced contracts awarded since 2015 — equivalent to 61%.

Meanwhile, a report by the NHS Confederation warned that a post-Brexit trade deal with Trump could lead to patients paying billions more for medicine, if the health service is denied the change to use cheaper alternatives to more expensive branded drugs.

But in the end it could be a hung parliament — that means we’re back to square one and it’s anyone’s guess what happens next.