Health Service Focus

28.07.17

A welcome signal on the future of medicines

Source: NHE Jul/Aug 2017

Just before NHE went to press, Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark issued a letter entitled ‘the UK wants to continue to work with the EU on medicines’. David Stevenson reports on this and recent discussions around Brexit.

An “important and welcome signal”. These are the words of Niall Dickson, CEO of NHS Confederation and co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, after the secretaries of health and industry sent a letter to the Financial Times stating that they want to “provide assurance” over the government’s plans for the regulation of medicines as we leave the EU. 

The letter stated that the UK was “fully committed” to continuing to work closely with its European partners in this area: “We have three principles which will help us rise to the challenge of developing a new regulatory system post-Brexit: patients should not be disadvantaged; innovators should be able to get their products into the UK market as quickly and simply as possible; and we continue to play a leading role promoting public health.”

The letter concluded by stating that, whatever the outcomes of the Brexit negotiations, a regulatory system that protects the best interests of patients and supports the UK life science industry to go from strength to strength will be pursued. But it added: “Our door will always be open to a deep and special relationship with the EU which remains the best way to promote improved patient outcomes both in Europe and globally.” 

Responding to the news, Dickson argued that if we get these negotiations wrong, “there is a real danger that patients could be denied access to cutting-edge treatments, and indeed access to a wide range of innovative health technologies”.

The determination of the UK government to continue with a regulatory system that protects and supports the life science sector is very welcome, he added. 

At Confed17, Dickson launched the Brexit Health Alliance, which brings together the NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health organisations. Its aim is to make sure that issues such as healthcare research, access to technologies and treatment of patients are given the prominence and attention they deserve in the Brexit negotiations. 

“The current EU medicines research, development and regulatory arrangements work well and benefit from the input of UK academics, regulators and industry,” stated Dickson. “For patients in the UK and across Europe we must maintain the highest possible level of collaboration and regulatory alignment.”  

During a recent discussion at Confed17, Sir Hugh Taylor, former permanent secretary at the Department of Health, the current chair of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS FT and co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, said that the single biggest risk factor for his trust over the next 12 months is workforce issues. On top of this, approximately 15% of the staff at his trust are EU nationals. 

“I think that risk is, in part, a funding issue,” he said. “But also, in part, it is a related set of issues to do with pay, the cost of housing and transport. But the Brexit impact is a compounding factor on workforce issues.

“We have touched on access for UK citizens, and we need to ensure we have reciprocal arrangements in place. Then there is the issue of access to technologies and the supply chain as we are big importers for medicines and tech. 

“There is quite a lot for the NHS and the Department of Health to get their heads around on supply chain issues. It is important that health is supported by a strong research and innovation base.  Universities and medical schools are dependent on international talent. We need to ensure the research and innovation base is improved as a result of EU negotiations. There are lots of areas to explore and lots of conversations to be had.” 

In support of the line from the health and industry secretaries, Professor Alan Boyd, president of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, stated that it is essential that the issues of regulation of medicines and devices are properly resolved for the safety and benefit of patients. 

“We would urge the government to closely involve professional bodies representing clinicians and the industry itself as discussions progress, and seek their input and expert advice to enable the best outcome to be achieved for patients and the industry in the UK,” he concluded.

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