Brexit: Tory minister admits US will be free to raise prices for drugs bought by NHS

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Dominic Raab has admitted that the US will be free to charge higher prices for drugs bought by the NHS after Brexit, but insisted the prospect is “hugely unlikely”.

Asked if Washington would be free to “jack up prices”, the foreign secretary replied: “The Americans will take their decisions.”

He then said: “I think it’s hugely unlikely, why would they do that?” Sky News interviewer Adam Boulton responded: “To get more money, that’s why.”

The comments come after documents released by Labour revealed that drug pricing has been discussed by US and UK negotiators in exploratory talks.

Officials from the Department for International Trade had “positive bilaterals” and met with PhRMa, the US pharmaceutical lobbying group, to discuss priorities for a future trade deal.

Mr Raab again insisted that the NHS would not be “on the table for negotiations” in the US-UK trade deal that the prime minister, Boris Johnson, is desperate to secure after leaving the EU.

The government would “walk away” rather than sign up to an agreement that put the health service at risk, he said.

However, the US has demanded “full market access” in the NHS and is known to want to end the ability of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), which regulates medicine prices in the UK, to block drugs it does not consider value for money.

The Trump administration also wants to change patent law, potentially paving the way for US drug firms to demand higher prices for their medicines and over a longer period of time.

In his first comments since arriving in the UK for the Nato summit, the US president tried to dismiss his interest in the NHS, saying: “I have nothing to do with it. Never even thought about it, honestly.”

He added: “I don’t even know where that rumour started. We have absolutely nothing to do with it and we wouldn’t want to if you handed it to us on a silver platter.”

However, it was quickly pointed out that Mr Trump himself said, on his visit earlier this year: “When you deal in trade, everything is on the table – so, the NHS or anything else.”

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, seized on the foreign secretary’s comments, saying: “Dominic Raab has finally admitted what we all know – Boris Johnson is opening the door to a Trump trade deal that will force our NHS medicines bill through the roof.”

Currently, prices for prescription drugs in the NHS are set through discussion between manufacturers and the government.

Nice evaluates the cost and clinical effectiveness of each drug to decide which should be purchased at the price being sought, given the limited budget.

There has been no suggestion that this system would change after Brexit, but controversy has escalated over likely hardball US tactics in any trade-deal negotiations.

In the interview, Mr Raab suggested it would not be in US interests to hike prices if “you reduce the amount, the volume of purchases”.

He said: “The key point in this is that we will do the right thing by the patients, the consumers in this country.”

On “drug pricing or any other involvement” in the NHS, Mr Raab insisted: “That is not on the table for negotiations.”

Mr Johnson, on the campaign trail in Wiltshire, said: “This is pure Loch Ness monster, Bermuda Triangle stuff.”