Theresa May's proposal is a step in the right directionby Mark Dayan / October 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
Conservative Party conference was dominated by firm views on the government’s Chequers plan for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Boris Johnson called it “humiliating”, “dangerous” and “unstable”: the prime minister responded by saying his alternatives tore up guarantees to the people of Northern Ireland.
All this can seem a long way from the nuts and bolts of what Brexit means for the NHS and life sciences in the UK. But the Chequers plan is a detailed and complicated compromise between factions in government, published as a white paper in July. We can actually look in some detail at the pros and cons for healthcare in the UK—and, crucially, how likely they are to make it through negotiations.
The proposals laid out in the Chequers white paper are far from perfect from the point of view of health and social care. Above all, by ending the free movement of people, the plan would allow measures that worsen staffing problems.
But future leaders could always decide to keep the door open. And taken in isolation, other proposals in the white paper would in fact solve at least two of the major problems patients would face under harder forms of Brexit.
The first is the prospect of leaving the European system of medicines approval. This would mean new drugs being introduced later in the UK, practical difficulties and costs from setting up two regulatory systems in place of one, and disruption to the processes of the medicines industry. Closely related is UK involvement in the streamlined new EU system of clinical trials: fear about departure from this appears already to have led to the cancellation of at least one trial in Scotland.
The Chequers plan answers this by setting out an aim that the UK will continue to “participate” in the European Medicines Agency, and to access “all the current routes to market” that it oversees. It also implies a degree of further alignment on clinical trials, and aims for the UK still being considered by the body in charge of overseeing supplies of radioisotopes, where we depend on EU imports for the most often used substance.
The second is the prospect of losing access to the EU’s reciprocal healthcare schemes which facilitate care across borders. This would mean no more European Health Insurance Cards which provide cover to travellers, valued especially by those with long term illness who would otherwise find insurance difficult to secure. It…