If there’s one thing that President Donald Trump’s second UK visit will be remembered for, it’s the National Health Service (NHS).
Not that at any time during his three-day state visit he is known to have required the direct intervention of the NHS - and had it come to that, no doubt he would have marvelled at the quality of care.
Besides trading barbs with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, President Trump had trade on his mind and he quickly left no doubt that the NHS was "on the table" for any upcoming trade talks between the UK and the US.
And then, just as quickly, he backtracked. Well...sort of.
The UK's much-treasured National Health Service was placed firmly on the negotiating table by President Trump’s hand-picked US Ambassador to London, Woody Johnson (of the Johnson and Johnson pharmaceutical empire), during a television interview prior to the President’s arrival.
Mr Trump himself reinforced that point of view when he stated in a joint press conference with outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May that as far as trade talks go, “everything is on the table. Nothing is off the table.”
NHS treatment might have been required for the resulting apoplectic outbursts of disbelief - except from a handful including Trump-fan and arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage whose new Brexit Party continues its single-agenda surge up the opinion polls.
But just as quickly as he had confirmed that the NHS was also ‘on the table’ of all things negotiable President Trump took it off…somewhat.
In a subsequent interview, released just hours after his now infamous “everything-on-the-table” and “phenomenal deal” affirmations, he had taken it off.
In a hasty back-pedal in the face of a stinging backlash from opposition MPs, even many in the business sector and the public - plus a later slightly more diplomatic distancing from the Prime Minister’s Office - Mr Trump sought to reassure that the NHS might not be on his radar.
"I don't see it being on the table” he said, adding as if to appease those with lingering doubts, that he does "not consider (the NHS) part of trade".
But the doubts remain. His attempt at reassurance has not had the soothing or anaesthetic effect that President Trump might have wanted.
The prospect of an American style health-insurance still looms large in the eyes of many who are committed to resisting it, ensuring that the unique Britishness and access-to-all characteristic of the NHS does not become a profit-making enterprise.
The NHS set up in 1948 as a free-to-all at point of delivery healthcare system along socialist ideals of the then post-war Labour Party government.
Although it currently already contracts out some of its services, there are concerns that the NHS is financially haemorrhaging and is suffering the effects of its own bloated administration.
While President Trump might have appeared to have rolled back from including the NHS on the table of negotiations, the service may yet find itself on an operating table of sorts to staunch its own financial bleeding.
The NHS was a poster - in fact, a billboard - issue in the 2016 referendum with dubious claims that the UK sends £350 million weekly to the EU which could be used to fund the NHS instead.
That is now the subject of a court case against prime-minister hopeful Boris Johnson for allegedly endorsing it.
It's also a perennial hot-button political issue.
The NHS might be seen as potential rich pickings for the US pharmaceutical industry especially over drug procurements.
Already some foreign companies including a subsidiary of a US firm have contracts with some parts of its massive outsourcing system and procurements system.
But any thought of ‘privatising’ this modern day 'jewel in the British crown' is seen as sacrilege.
There are already some suggestions for a possible two-tier health system with more opportunities for private healthcare for those who can afford it.
Private healthcare facilities operate in the UK along the NHS. However, the NHS is free at the point of delivery to all citizens.
The Overseas Territories benefit from this as well, albeit on a limited quota system which they continue to petition the British government to relax.
It’s more than likely that any change to how the NHS operates could affect them as well.
As one opposition UK MP has cautioned:
“Let us not forget that the Americans have a system that checks your purse before it checks your pulse. That is the last thing we want in this country.”
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