EXCLUSIVE: Brexit Health Alliance established to safeguard patient care

As the Brexit negotiations get underway, it is critically important to ensure that patient care and the population’s health will be protected as the UK withdraws from the EU. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clearer that leaving the EU will have significant implications for the health sector.

By
Elisabetta
Zanon

Despite the many unknowns about what type of new future relationship the UK will have with the EU post-Brexit, the UK Government’s intention to control EU migration, to end its membership of the EU internal market and customs union, as well as the departure of the European Medicines Agency from London, are all very significant changes to which the healthcare sector will have to adapt.

To ensure that patient care will not be negatively affected by these changes, it is important not to stand by and simply wait for the new relationship with the EU to be agreed. On the contrary, the health sector should be a loud voice in the Brexit debate, bringing evidence-based expertise to the decision-makers, so that they are able to make informed decisions that will safeguard the interests of patients.

This is why the NHS Confederation took the initiative to establish the Brexit Health Alliance, so that the NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health organisations can speak with a coordinated voice across the sector in the Brexit debate.

Importantly, the Alliance does not take a stance on the merits or otherwise of Brexit. Its aim is to ensure that issues such as healthcare research and patient access to technologies and treatments are given the prominence and attention they deserve in the Brexit negotiations, arguing that it is in both Europe’s and the UK’s interests to maintain co-operation in research and in handling public health issues.

The Alliance will complement the work already being done by the Cavendish Coalition  - led by the NHS Confederation too - on the workforce implications of Brexit for the health and the social care sector, by focusing on the other areas of health policy which may be significantly impacted by leaving the EU. 

This will include securing that reciprocal healthcare arrangements are maintained and pushing for maximum levels of research and innovation collaboration, as well as for alignment of health technology regulation between the UK and the EU, so that patients can benefit from international research collaborations and from early access to the wide range of innovations and do not miss out on the opportunity to access cutting edge treatments as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

Legal certainty required to protect patients

We will also call for legal certainty from ‘day one’ of Brexit to ensure continuity of medical supply, so as to avoid negative impacts on patients and the public’s health, both in the EU and UK. In the case of pharmaceutical products, this may be at risk where product licenses, issued with validity across the whole EU, are held in the UK (meaning potential disruption for the EU) or in the EU (meaning potential disruption for the UK).

Similarly, for both pharmaceutical and medical devices, products rely on complex international supply chains. This means that throughout their life cycle, products are moved around different countries for material sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, sterilisation etc. It is not uncommon for a ‘British’ product to have passed through seven other jurisdictions before reaching the market place. If post-Brexit trading agreements make it harder to move things around, then supply could be affected. In a similar way, completed products too are often moved around. For example, the largest supplier of needles and tubes for blood collection in the NHS manufactures its products in Plymouth. They are then taken by road to Belgium and distributed back to the UK from there. If containers cannot move freely across borders, there is a possibility that supplies could be affected.

Healthcare to remain a high priority in Brexit negotiations

The Brexit Health Alliance will tap into the expertise and knowledge of front-line experts from across the range of its member organisations to conduct analysis, draw up case studies, collect data and other evidence of impact, and to brief Brexit negotiators, so that the best outcome for patients, both in the UK and the EU, can be achieved.  

With an increasing number of industries pushing for their sectoral interests to be prioritised in the Brexit negotiations, the Brexit Health Alliance will play a key role in pushing for health to remain high on the agenda, ensuring that the “patient” is not forgotten among the vast number of issues that the negotiators will have to address.

Elisabetta Zanon

Director - NHS European Office
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