Patient groups unite to highlight Brexit concerns

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 14 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1183
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. London

Patients’ organisations from the UK and across Europe have written a joint letter urging Brexit negotiators to prioritise patients’ safety and access to treatment in the second phase of talks.

The letter to EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and UK state secretary for exiting the EU David Davis, from heads of 11 organisations, warns of the risk of drugs getting stuck at borders and delays to patients’ access to new treatments if collaborative research were to be curtailed and regulatory systems diverge.1

The letter, sent ahead of a European Council meeting on 22 March, sets out four priorities:

  • Close cooperation in regulation of drugs and medical devices

  • A trade agreement that protects the supply of drugs and medical devices

  • Continuing partnership on medical research, and

  • A smooth transition to ensure the safety of patients.

The letter asks why fishing and aviation have been identified as key areas of consideration in future UK-EU relations when there hasn’t been similar consideration of the effects on patients and public health.

Each month the UK supplies 45 million packs of drugs to Europe, while 37 million packs travel in the opposite direction. These products are often manufactured in complex supply chains across Europe, with products or their components crossing borders several times. The letter says that no one should have their health put at risk by a block in the supply of drugs and medical devices. It calls for future trade agreements to include provisions that drugs and devices can continue to cross borders.

The letter points out the importance of collaboration in research, particularly into rare diseases, where it is necessary to pool expertise and provide access to adequate numbers of participants. It calls for the UK to remain committed to aligning with the forthcoming EU Clinical Trials Regulation, due to come into application next year, and urges negotiators to secure collaboration on important underpinning infrastructure, such as the centralised clinical trials portal.

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities and one of the signatories, said, “As the second phase of Brexit negotiations begins, it is vital that the concerns of patients are addressed with urgency. By taking healthcare and research into consideration, Brexit negotiators have the opportunity to ensure that no patient, whichever country they live in, faces unnecessary delays in accessing existing as well as new and better treatments.”

Another signatory, Derick Mitchell, chief executive of the Irish Platform for Patient Organisations, Science and Industry, said, “The impact of Brexit on patients both in the UK and across the EU is significant and has not been sufficiently considered in negotiations to date. Any future regulatory alignment between the EU and UK must ensure sufficient and timely supply of medicines and medical devices. It must not exacerbate delays in access to the most innovative treatments for patients. In the interests of patients and public health, patient voices should be heard loud and clear by negotiators on both sides.”

And signatory Roisin Foster, executive board member of the Association of European Cancer Leagues and chief executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, said, “We are deeply concerned about the threat posed by Brexit to cancer patients—in their future access to new treatments, their inclusion in drug trials, and the potential impact on the transfer of knowledge that ensures optimum treatment.”

Signatories to letter to Michel Barnier and David Davis

  • Nicola Bedlington, secretary general, European Patients’ Forum

  • Nina Renshaw, secretary general, European Public Health Alliance

  • Wendy Yared, director, Association of European Cancer Leagues

  • Susanne Logstrup, director, European Heart Network

  • Derick Mitchell, chief executive, Irish Platform for Patient Organisations, Science and Industry

  • Aisling Burnand, chief executive, Association of Medical Research Charities

  • Jeremy Taylor, chief executive, National Voices

  • Simon Gillespie, chief executive, British Heart Foundation

  • Harpal Kumar, chief executive, Cancer Research UK

  • Jayne Spink, chief executive, Genetic Alliance UK

  • Roisin Foster, chief executive, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland


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