THE UK Health Secretary is to give a firm guarantee that a wide-ranging transatlantic trade deal will not open Scotland's NHS to further privatisation.

In an attempt to counter Yes campaign claims that publicly-run NHS Scotland services would be threatened by the agreement, Jeremy Hunt will write to his Scottish Government opposite number Alex Neil giving assurances it would not give private healthcare providers the right to seize contracts from the public sector.

The move follows claims by Yes campaigners that the Trans­atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would allow American firms to "muscle in" on NHS contracts.

Mr Neil wrote to Mr Hunt a fortnight ago demanding "cast iron assurances" that TTIP would "not affect the Scottish Government's ability to determine how NHS services are provided" or "open the NHS in Scotland to private providers".

Mr Hunt has yet to reply but a UK Government source said: "The TTIP won't affect the position that it is for the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland to take decisions on which providers deliver health care services in the best interests of their patients.

"The UK Government is committed to the principles of a National Health Service, free at the point of use, based on clinical need and not ability to pay. The TTIP could not undermine these principles.

"It's not the case that TTIP would mean public services must be opened up to the private sector.

"We have made clear to the European Commission, which is negotiating the TTIP, that it is always for member states to decide whether to open up public services to competition.

"This is the approach the Commission is taking."

It is understood the comments will be closely reflected in Mr Hunt's letter to Mr Neil.

The TTIP, a major free trade agreement being negotiated between the European Union and America, has been welcomed enthusiastically by the Scottish Government.

Finance Secretary John Swinney has said it could increase Scottish exports to the US by £1.4billion and boost inward investment.

However, Yes campaigners have seized on Labour and trade union concerns about the possible impact of TTIP on England's increasingly privatised health service to argue Scotland's NHS would be threatened.

Katy Clark, Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron this week warning TTIP would lock in privatisation by making it difficult to return already contracted-out services to the public sector.

She said: "TTIP would let companies sue if national governments pass laws that hurt profits.

"This is bad news for our existing public services, such as the NHS, or other services we may wish to take back into public ownership, such as the railways.

"This is because private companies already run certain services but under the new plans the Government would never be allowed to run these services again because doing so would hurt the profits of the companies involved."

Malcolm Chisholm, Labour's former health minister at Holyrood, has already dismissed claims about the impact of TTIP on Scotland's NHS as a "red herring".

He said "none of this would affect Scotland" as long as Scottish governments remained committed to publicly-run health services, a policy shared by the SNP and Labour.

In his letter to the UK Government, Mr Neil demanded an assurance no Scottish Government could be sued over a health decision under the terms of TTIP.

He added: "Given the level of concern, and quite how vital the NHS is to the people of Scotland, could I ask that explicit protection for publicly-funded, publicly-run health services is put on the face of any agreement to give the maximum assurance possible."