03/07/2014 07:39 BST | Updated 03/07/2014 07:59 BST

TTIP Could Make NHS Privatisation 'Irreversible', Warns Unite Union

JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images
English Unite the Union General Secretary Len McCluskey addresses an anti-austerity rally in Parliament Square in London on June 21, 2014. The demonstration is organised by the People's Assembly campaign group to highlight the impact on communities and workers of the coalition's cuts. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Health Service is facing a "unique risk" of having its services privatised if a secretive major EU-US trade deal goes through, trade unions have warned.

Unite claimed that the deal between the European Union and the United States, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is the result of "secret" negotiations between US officials and the European Commission.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "David Cameron has shown that he's willing to go to Europe to defend bankers' bonuses, now he must use his powers to defend our cherished NHS.

"US health companies will even have the right to sue a future UK government in secret courts if politicians try to reverse privatisation.

"The most significant effect will be felt in health, enabling US healthcare multinationals and Wall Street investors to sue the UK government in secret courts if it attempts to reverse privatisation.

"David Cameron can exempt the NHS from these trade negotiations. Unless the Prime Minister acts, bureaucrats in Brussels and Washington will make the sell-off of our NHS irreversible."

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Unite published research at its national conference in Liverpool claiming that if successful, TTIP places the NHS at "unique risk" because of the "Tory drive towards privatisation".

Unite said the trade agreement was aimed at increasing the power of multinational investors such as big businesses and hedge funds, while reducing regulation of these organisations. Unite claimed a TTIP could "scupper" plans to reverse privatisation of health services in this country.

The union said the bilateral trade agreement would create a single market between the European Union and the United States, removing barriers between public assets and multinational corporations.

TTIP could make it impossible for any European government to reverse the privatisation of public assets, such as the railways or healthcare, said Unite.

However, Syed Kamall, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, poured scorn on the "myths' surrounding the TTIP negotiations.

Blogging on the Huffington Post UK, he wrote: "If the TTIP negotiations cover issues other than trade, it becomes known as a "mixed agreement" and will have to be ratified by the British Parliament.

"Democratic oversight and transparency is a core shared objective of the parties and Members of the European Parliament across the political spectrum are closely monitoring the different stages of the process in order to inform our citizens and to engage them in the process."

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "There is no question of TTIP being used to promote an ideological agenda for the NHS. There is no suggestion whatever that the TTIP negotiations could be used to undermine the fundamental principles of the NHS or advancing privatisation.

"The NHS will always be there for everyone who needs it, funded from general taxation, free at the point of use. Our focus for health is to enable our world-class pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors to benefit from improved access to the US market, increasing growth and employment in the UK."

Meanwhile, business leaders have welcomed the deal for its potential commercial benefits. Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said: "TTIP would prove to the world that Europe is serious about putting competitiveness back on the agenda, providing a model for coherent, cooperative regulation and standard-setting that would boost enhance our trade and boost investment into both continents."