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Brexit impasse reignites fears of ‘no deal’ impact on patient and pharma health

Impasse following Tuesday’s historic vote has prompted warnings from senior figures

Caroline White

Friday, 18 January 2019

The looming threat of a ‘no deal’ Brexit following Tuesday’s historic vote on the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement with the EU has renewed fears among senior figures that the health of patients and UK pharma could be at risk.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “Patients must not suffer as a result of the Brexit process. Even if there is no deal, we cannot have no agreement about how to protect patients in the UK and across Europe.

“We are therefore calling on both the UK government and the European Commission to guarantee patient safety whatever happens. That means free movement of medicines, free movement of medical devices and supplies for as long as it takes to resolve these concerns.”

He added: “While we welcome no deal preparations made by the UK government, this is an issue for both London and Brussels. We have seen the EU is willing to make arrangements in a number of areas – including finance. We now need to see the same urgency from both sides on health.

“This is an unprecedented situation for the health service. Of course, the NHS can adapt to emergencies, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to avoid them. No deal and no arrangements to protect patients is simply not acceptable and could put lives at risk.”

Meanwhile, data analysts, GlobalData, have warned that the UK healthcare industry’s £70 billion contribution to the UK economy is at risk following Tuesday’s vote, and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Gavin Davidson, pharma analyst at GlobalData commented: “Throughout 2018, the global biopharma industry’s opinion of the UK as an attractive place to base research and manufacturing has steadily eroded and [Tuesday’s] vote will have done nothing to improve this sentiment with the looming possibility of a ‘No Deal Brexit’.

‘‘In a series of quarterly surveys (Q1-Q3), GlobalData asked key respondents from the US, UK, and EU healthcare markets, whether or not they thought that the UK will remain an attractive place to do central business. In all markets, decreases in ‘yes’ answers were observed; however in the UK and EU markets, confidence has collapsed, with abysmal rates of 17% and 19%, respectively, after Q3."

He continued: “The UK has always been at the forefront of pharmaceutical and biotechnical investment and development. For this position to be maintained, companies based in the UK want certainty on the outcome of Brexit and with MPs now debating ‘what next’, the stakes couldn’t be higher with the healthcare industries' £70 billion per annum contribution to the UK economy at risk if the country ends up with a no deal Brexit, an outcome that the EU has now escalated its planning for.”

Meanwhile, the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has written to Defra minister Thérèse Coffey MP highlighting renewed concerns about the government’s ill-preparedness to take on the regulation of chemicals and maintain chemical trade after Brexit.

The Committee’s report Brexit: chemical regulation, published in November 2018, warned that unless the government can negotiate continued UK participation in REACH, the EU’s chemical regulation system, chemicals registered by UK companies won’t be valid for sale in the EU and the UK will have incomplete safety information about chemicals being used in the UK after Brexit.

The minister has responded to the report. But the overall response is “vague and insufficient” and the government appears to have failed on a number of counts, says the Committee, which also fears the impact on UK manufacturing and businesses of the potential loss of access to thousands of chemicals as a result of Brexit.

Lord Teverson, chair of the Sub-Committee, said: “Last year we were hugely concerned about the scale of work that needed to be done to maintain adequate chemical regulation in light of Brexit, and frankly the minister’s response to our report has done little to alleviate our concerns.

The Committee has written to the minister seeking further clarification, requesting a response by the end of this month.


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