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Brexit and Healthcare

As tension escalates over the current heated debate as to whether Britain should remain or leave the EU, the clock is ticking ominously in the background to the referendum day held on the 23rd June. Should medical students care about Brexit? Here, Charlene will be giving a detailed account on the implications of Brexit on the UK healthcare.

On the appearance, it may appear that the topic of Brexit only concerns itself with those associated with fields such as business and politics; however, it is also a major player in the future of medicine, potentially influencing medical research and innovations, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as the NHS system.

[Interview tip 1: When delivering interview answers, try mentally grouping your answers into subheadings, such as the ones displayed below, so that it gives a clear and focused answer to the interviewer, maximising your performance.]

 

Medical Research and Innovations

If you are keeping yourself abreast of the recent happenings in the medical world, you may see that there are more and more advances and discoveries over various diseases, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. Yet research has shown that, with a Brexit, these may be delayed, shattering the hopes of many to the grand promises of immunotherapy, gene editing and nanotechnology.

Despite benefits of Brexit, including savings due to the exclusion of the EU membership fee and unnecessary regulations, Britain remains dependent on the EU on many other areas. One of these is research funding. Just by looking at the statistics for cancer research funding will we be able to comprehend the Brit’s reliance on the EU: “the EU has propped up UK cancer research to the tune of £126m in the past decade, amounting to more than 40% of public money poured into the work.”[1] Without these funds, it will be hard to experiment sound hypotheses, or continue with experimental trials. (Not to mention that the UK government is highly unlikely to fill the financial gap, in view of the NHS deepening funding crisis.) A Brexit would also hinder the flow of ideas and the sharing of data between researchers; thus, exacerbating the problem further.

However, these arguments against Brexit are on the assumption that EU funding will exceed that of the government and charities in the UK. Moreover, if we take a historical look at the collaboration in science, there had already been cooperation and information sharing before Britain joined the EU, thanks to organisations such as “CERN, the European Molecular Biology laboratories, the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer and the European Space Agency.”[2]

 

Pharmaceutical Industry

For a drug to be sold on the UK market, it must first be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is a decentralised agency that is responsible for monitoring the safety of medicines and approving medicinal products. As the name suggests, the EMA belongs to and is funded by the EU. Hence, a Brexit would imply that Britain has to set up a supervision system as vigilant as the EMA, a process that would take time and experience, at the same time, leaving Britain in a state of “regulatory uncertainty.” (Vallance, 2016) Although some may argue that there is already such a system in place — The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Sir Michael, the chair of the MHRA, has voiced that the MHRA would “certainly not” be able to take on all the additional work due to lack of staff and funds.[3]

Throwing the headquarters of EMA out of London would not only delay accessibility of various medicines, it would also reduce the attraction for pharmaceutical companies to locate their headquarters in the UK, as “international pharma companies like to be close to their regulators.” (Rawlins, 2016)

 

NHS System

If the NHS budget deficits in the previous years have been deepening, Brexit may exacerbate the problem. However, this is still uncertain due to opposing claims: Brexit opponent Gisela Stuart claimed that “every week we (Britain) send £350m to Brussels” and that she would rather spend it on the NHS. However, proponents said that the figures are wrong. Instead, it should be  “£276m a week,” whereby this figure includes emergency and development aid.[4] In simpler terms, after Brexit, this sum of money still has to be paid, or else it could lead to criticisms from other countries.

Patient care may also be affected. Brexit would prevent free movement of labour, limiting the amount of clinical staff. Although this may eventually be resolved using immigration rules and regulations, there will still be an impact initially. With less staff and a limited financial budget, it seems to be pointing to a destiny that sounds too familiar to UK clinical staff: Long hours work, no work-life balance… Will it be junior doctors’ strikes all over again? Another #ImInWorkJeremy all over social media again?

Brexit or not? What do you think?

[Interview Tip 2: It is always important to consider both sides of the argument, so as to make your argument balanced and sound.]

 


[1]  Sample, Ian. “Brexit Would Threaten World-Class British Research, Major Report Warns”. the Guardian. N. p., 2016. Web. 13 June 2016.

[2] “EU Referendum: Brexit ‘Will Not Damage UK Research’”. Times Higher Education (THE). N. p., 2016. Web. 13 June 2016.

[3] “UK Medicines Regulator Warns Of Brexit Hit – FT.Com”. Financial Times. N. p., 2016. Web. 13 June 2016.

[4] “Reality Check: Would Brexit Mean Extra £350M A Week For NHS? – BBC News”.BBC News. N. p., 2016. Web. 13 June 2016.

 

About the Author:

I'm a medical student at Cambridge University, and one of the co-founders of 6med. I created the BMAT Crash Course and Interview Crash Course, and helped code BMAT Ninja and UKCAT Ninja. If you need a hand with anything, feel free to give me a shout!

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