NHS European Office

Perspectives on Brexit and the future EU-UK relationship from the European health community

COVID-19 and Brexit - protecting patients across Europe from pandemics

The European health sector stakeholders’ group works together to monitor developments in the Brexit negotiations for a future EU-UK relationship and analyse the implications for patients and the health and care sector across Europe.

Most recently, in June 2020 the group launched a statement “COVID-19 and Brexit – Protecting patients across Europe from pandemics” which highlights the importance of addressing health issues as part of the agreement on the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that cross-border health threats need effective coordination and brought to the forefront issues such as shortages and unequal access to medicines and personal protective equipment (PPE), the importance of global supply chains and the negative effects of export bans, stockpiling requirements and other restrictions.

The UK has contributed significant expertise and participated extensively in EU-wide health platforms and programmes, though the negotiations between the EU and the UK on their future relationship have reached a critical point and health issues are largely absent from the negotiators’ agenda.

In the light of this, the group of healthcare stakeholders calls upon EU and UK decision-makers to reach agreement on public health cooperation, patient safety, the supply of medicines and medical devices, citizens’ rights to treatment, and furthering medical research and innovation.

The full statement can be accessed here.

In September last year, the European health sector stakeholders’ group came together in the European Parliament to discuss the Parliament's role in prioritising patients, public health and health security across Europe in the event of a "no-deal" Brexit, with particular emphasis on the possible impact on medicine supply chains, patients and medical research.

The event was hosted by Rory Palmer MEP, and heard from representatives from patient groups, the medicines industry and the medical profession.

Speakers included:

  • Usman Khan, Executive Director of the European Patients Forum
  • Professor George Griffiths, President of the Federations of European Academies of Medicine
  • Fiona Godfrey, Secretary General, European Public Health Alliance
  • David Boyd, AstraZeneca
  • Dr Ray Walley, Vice President of the Standing Committee of European Doctors
  • Pascal Garel (chair), Secretary General, European Hospital and Healthcare Federation

Usman Khan 
Usman began by discussing the impact that Brexit will have on patients in the short, medium and long term. Whilst it was acknowledged that there will likely be limited impact on patients in the EU27 in the short term (loss of reciprocal healthcare with the UK, and certain possible shortages of medicines), in the medium to long term there is a more significant threat to patients. Usman specifically focused on the unravelling of relationships between UK and EU research organisations, highlighting it will be important to have the patient voice heard during research development. He suggested that despite this, if these relationships are actively supported, breakdown in the UK-EU research collaboration can be avoided.   

Professor George Griffiths 
Professor Griffiths echoed the views of Usman Khan, explaining that the strong ties that have been forged between UK and EU institutions have been of mutual benefit to research, pointing to evidence that collaborative working results in significantly increased research quality. With nine of the top twenty universities in Europe located in the UK and 20% of the total research work within EU health research programmes (2007-2016) being led by UK organisations, any reduction in collaboration will have a detrimental impact. It is therefore vital that the relations between the EU and UK institutions are maintained.  

Fiona Godfrey
Fiona reiterated that there was little concern among her organisation’s European members about the immediate impact of Brexit (with the exception of Ireland), but it is in the medium to long term that the effects will be felt.  As a prominent member of the European Medicines Agency – contributing many highly qualified staff - and the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control – providing 10% of the overall budget - should the UK leave the EU without a deal, performance of both organisations will be affected. This could lead to a reduced ability to deal with the authorisation of new medicines and to track and manage potential disease outbreaks.  

David Boyd
David, representing the pharmaceutical industry agreed that there would be long-term fallout in the effectiveness for research due the industry’s ability to conduct pan-European clinical trials. He also identified immediate challenges to continuity of medicines’ supply and the supply medical devices which currently criss-cross the EU’s borders in vast quantities.  Whilst industry has taken steps to mitigate delays through stockpiling and re-routing of supply chains, it had been unable to rule out delays altogether and requires support from those in the EU to ensure that there no blockages at the border which would put patients at risk.  David also called for mutual recognition between UK and EU regulators on manufacturing and distribution procedures (GMP and GDP) as these are critical to the well-being of Europeans. 

Dr Ray Walley
Drawing on his own experiences of training, Dr Walley shared the positive impact that free movement of health professionals has on the quality of care in the EU. By travelling for training, fellowships and employment, EU medics benefit extensively by being exposed to a range of challenges posed by different working environments.  It is essential, he said, that medical professionals can continue to benefit from EU-wide mobility and residency rights, as well as the continued recognition of professional qualifications. This would also offer clarity and legal certainty to medical students.

Pascal Garel
Pascal concluded the discussion, highlighting that the panellists’ insights into the effects of medicines supply, workforce and public health would have significant impacts on hospitals in the EU27 in the longer term after Brexit. 

Find out what the European healthcare sector is suggesting needs to be done to protect patients and public health in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.

Download the speaker presentations.

Prof George Griffin, European Academies of Medicine
Dr Ray Walley, Standing Committee of European Doctors
David Boyd, AstraZeneca
Pascal Garel, European Hospital and Healthcare Federation

Read here a view from the European healthcare sector on what needs to be done to protect patients and public health in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit – September 2019.


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