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MPs warn lack of Brexit clarity could affect patient safety

Guarantees needed over supply of essential medicines and products

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 19 February 2018

MPs have warned the government that the current lack of clarity over what will happen after the UK leaves the European Union (EU) next year is risking patient safety.

The influential parliamentary health select committee has written a letter to health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt raising its concerns about the 'transition period' after the UK’s official exit day on 29 March 2019.

The letter sent by committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston stresses the need for clarity on details of the transitional period after exit day, government contingency planning to protect patients, NHS services and the UK's life science industry.

It says: “Patient care, both in the UK and Europe, is at risk of being compromised in the event of a disorderly Brexit.

“Businesses and services, like government, need to plan for all outcomes to avoid any disruption to the supply of medical products. However, with only 13 months until the UK exits the European Union on 29 March 2019, healthcare services and businesses, including those manufacturing and distributing medicines, remain in the dark.”

As part of the committee’s ongoing inquiry into Brexit as well as the business, energy and industrial strategy committee’s inquiry into Brexit’s implications for UK business, many businesses had told MPs that they were having to prepare for a worst-case scenario despite the cost because time was running out for a transition period to be announced.

The business committee had been told of risks such as companies forced to invest in contingency plans for sites in Europe may not find those sites.

MPs were encouraged that both sides of the Brexit negotiations were now discussing the terms of a transition period, said Dr Wollaston, but if the announcement and details of a transition period was delayed beyond March of this year, more businesses would be forced to invest money in contingency plans at the expense of this funding going towards advancing patient care.

“This is an unnecessary cost and distraction, which should be avoided,” says the letter. “It would be unwelcome for life science businesses and the NHS to transition twice. The UK government should seek to agree an implementation period wherein the current regulatory status quo is maintained to avoid imposing unnecessary burdens on the life science sector.”

The health committee said it welcomed the commitment expressed by both sides to ensure patient safety was not compromised and reiterated its view that a special partnership with the EU and the European Medicines Agency after Brexit was in the interests of patients in the UK and Europe, so it supported the UK government’s intention to negotiate such a close partnership.

However, Dr Wollaston added: “Despite this mutual interest, the outcome of the Brexit negotiations cannot be certain; the principle of ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ means that a failure to reach an agreement on other sectors of the economy could jeopardise an agreement on medicines, devices and substances of human origin, and put patient care at risk.

“A disorderly UK exit could result in an immediate impact on the supply of essential medicines and medical products, both in the UK and the EU-27.”

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