Letters “No deal” Brexit threat to new drugs

Brexit will affect UK’s supply of radioisotopes

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k1020 (Published 05 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1020
  1. Claire M Rooney, clinical oncology registrar
  1. Northern Ireland Cancer Centre, Belfast, UK
  1. c.rooney{at}doctors.org.uk

Brexit threatens our access not only to drugs,1 but also to radioisotopes, which are mostly imported from reactors in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands and are used to diagnose and treat diseases in about one million people in the UK each year.2 Currently, appointments are occasionally cancelled owing to delays at border control. This is despite the UK being a current member of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

Euratom facilitates the time sensitive, highly regulated movement of nuclear goods, provides regulation and safeguards for the transportation and use of radioactive materials, and governs UK international nuclear cooperation agreements with European and third party countries. Euratom is separate from the European Union, but the Euratom treaty requires freedom of employment for nuclear specialists and falls under the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction. Membership would be untenable after Brexit. Withdrawing from Euratom will inevitably affect arrangements for the guaranteed supply of radioisotopes to UK hospitals.

As well as being unable to diagnose conditions or treat patients, scheduling appointments and elective hospital beds will also be affected. At a time when the health system is facing enormous pressures, unnecessary cancellations due to lack of materials needed for treatments is deeply concerning. The government is proposing a new nuclear safeguards bill, but this does not specify how the UK will guarantee a supply of nuclear material for medical use. We urgently need clarity about future arrangements and the huge implications that Brexit has for the NHS and its patients.


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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