The UK Government has sought to reassure MSPs that medicine prices will not be affected as part of any future UK-US trade deal after Brexit.
During last month’s general election, Boris Johnson pledged the NHS would not be part of any talks, while US President Donald Trump said he wanted “nothing to do” with the health service in any trade deal.
Members of the opposition claimed the Conservatives would be prepared to put the NHS up for sale, with the SNP calling for a law to be passed to exclude it from any trade discussions.
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee on Tuesday, Elizabeth Woodeson, director of medicines and pharmacy in the UK Department of Health and Social Care, said the UK Government is aware of the risk.
She insisted the pricing of medicines would not be part of any negotiations.
MSPs on the committee said the price of the top 20 drugs in the US is roughly five times higher than the costs of the same drugs in the UK.
“We are well aware that prices are typically higher in the States,” Ms Woodeson said.
“So there is clearly a risk there and it’s one that we’ve been aware of for a long time.
“We were very pleased to see statements from our (UK) Government around this and the (Conservative) manifesto itself is very clear on this point, and I’ll quote.
“It says: ‘When we are negotiating trade deals, the NHS will not be on the table, the price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table, the services the NHS provides will not be on the table.’
“So our ministers are well aware of this risk and both our health secretary Matt Hancock but also the Prime Minister have made very strong statements around the pricing of medicines not being any part of these trade negotiations with the States.”
Scottish Labour MSP David Stewart said following the imposition of a 25% tax on Scotch whisky exports to the US, concerns remained about a disparity between public assurances given about trade agreements and the reality.
He said: “The convener will not allow me to make political points, I merely make the point that trade with the US is obviously vitally important, particularly in our leaving the EU.
“But if I can raise a Scotch whisky issue, you’ll know that Scotch whisky has now just had a tariff of 25% which it didn’t have just a few weeks ago.
“So you know, there’s obviously concerns about what’s said at the macro-level and what happens in reality.
“Any trade deal involves negotiation on both sides and something has to give but I hope that reassurance happens and perhaps if it doesn’t we can have UK ministers back here in a year or two.”