Is the NHS already privatised? Is it going to be?

10 December 2019

Some NHS services are already outsourced to private providers. There's no one way to count this, but experts estimate between 7% and 22% of the healthcare budget goes to private providers. The higher estimates include things like GPs and pharmacies, which are technically private providers but might not be thought of that way.

While the NHS has always used private providers, their role was formalised and expanded through the 2000s. 

It’s been claimed that more NHS services could be outsourced to private companies, particularly in connection with a possible UK-US trade deal. 

Trade deals don't usually seek to redesign public services, how they’re funded or who pays for them, and US companies already have the right to bid for private NHS contracts in England. There's a suggestion that a US trade deal might hinder the ability of any future government to reduce the levels of private provision within the NHS.

What's more likely is that the NHS pays more to buy drugs from US companies. The United States has argued that bargaining on drug prices by publicly-funded health systems such as the NHS means those other countries pay less for US pharmaceuticals, and says foreign consumers are “freeloading” at the expense of consumers in the US. It also fits with US priorities from past trade negotiations.

However, increased drug prices aren't a sure thing. After Australia negotiated a trade deal with the United States which included provisions on medicines, the gap between the amount Australians paid for medicines and the amount Americans paid for medicines didn’t close at all. 

You can read more about NHS privatisation and the consequences of a US trade deal here and here.


This article is part of our Ask Full Fact series on the 2019 general election, answering your questions about the election, from claims the main parties are making to what happens on polling day.

You can see all the questions we’ve answered so far and we’ll keep adding to it as we get through them.

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