Bringing together the NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health organisations, the Brexit Health Alliance aims to safeguard the interests of patients, and the healthcare and research they rely on, during the ongoing UK-EU negotiations on the future relationship.
The Brexit Health Alliance is working to ensure that issues such as healthcare research, access to technologies and treatment of patients are given the prominence and attention they deserve, and argues that it is in both Europe and the UK’s interests to maintain co-operation in research and in handling public health issues.
The Alliance is complementary and works in synergy with the Cavendish Coalition, which brings together a group of 37 health and social care organisations and focuses on addressing the potential impacts of the UK's exit from the EU on the health and social care workforce.
What the Brexit Health Alliance is calling for
The UK-EU agreement reached last Christmas left several issues unresolved. A positive new relationship between the UK and EU that benefits patients on both sides of the Channel/Irish Sea depends on resolving outstanding problems that leave the health system vulnerable.
The Brexit Health Alliance, an alliance of organisations representing the NHS, patients, researchers, clinicians and healthcare industries, is calling on the government and EU to take the following eight steps to ensure that patients don’t lose out:
1. Agree arrangements for implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol, to secure medicines supply
The supply of medicines into Northern Ireland is at risk of disruption after the end of this year, when new rules on the import and export of medicines come into force. The UK government and EU urgently need to agree the arrangements for practical implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which sets out the arrangements for avoiding a “hard border” on the island of Ireland. Companies need to know the new rules and have time to implement them well in advance.
2. Commit funding for ground-breaking joint research projects
The deal ensures that UK bodies can apply for funding from and participate in the EU’s flagship Horizon Europe research programme, which brings together scientists from across Europe to collaborate on joint projects, including researching new treatments for diseases. To encourage applications, the UK government should finalise the details of UK associate status with Horizon Europe as soon as possible and should fund it with new money, rather than by drawing on existing research and development commitments.
3. Expedite extending reciprocal healthcare agreements to EFTA countries
The deal ensures that UK and EU citizens can get affordable healthcare in each other’s countries when they need it. However, the deal doesn’t cover Switzerland or the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) States of Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. We urge the UK Government to expedite extending reciprocal healthcare cover to these countries.
4. Secure the future supply of medicines and medical devices
The UK and EU should:
a. Establish the working group on medicinal products that was promised in the deal, involving the life sciences sector and regulators, to drive better cooperation on medicines supply. They should also explore setting up a similar working group on medical technologies.
b. Agree mutual recognition for batch testing of medicinal products to protect the supply of medicines to patients in the UK. Currently the UK is continuing to unilaterally accept batch testing conducted in the EU and should find a way forward with European Union counterparts to make this permanent through a mutual recognition agreement.
5. Shore up the future supply of medical equipment
Patients in the UK need timely access to medical devices approved by European bodies. In the absence of a mutual recognition agreement (MRA) to accept each other’s standards as adequate, we recommend that the UK Government extends unilateral recognition of Conformity Assessment Certificates issued in the EU and seeks to agree a permanent MRA.
6. Protect patients from unsafe medical devices
The government should provide medical device manufacturers with clarity over the timelines for complying with UK product health and safety regulations that have superseded EU rules, and on Certificates of Free Sale for UK manufacturers wishing to export their products.
7. Recognise clinical trial sponsors based in the UK and EU, to hold out hope to patients
The UK and EU should negotiate a mutual recognition agreement recognising clinical trial sponsors based in each other’s countries. The current lack of recognition incurs additional costs that hamper the UK’s attractiveness as a research environment. It also discourages collaborative testing, through clinical trials, of new and better treatments that offer hope to patients, especially those suffering from rare diseases, in both the UK and EU. As an interim measure, we recommend the UK Government also considers how to offset the costs of EU legal representation now faced by UK sponsors working in the EU/EEA.
8. Tackle health threats that know no borders
We urge the UK’s new Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the EU’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to agree a Memorandum of Understanding to foster deeper cooperation on health security, as provided for in the deal.
Brexit wasn’t the end of the UK’s relationship with the EU – it’s the beginning of a new partnership. It’s important for patients and for healthcare services to get the details right.
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