The Chair of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, has written to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to ask for clarity regarding the UK’s exit from the EU and what it will mean for the future of the health service.
The letter described a ‘pressing need for clarity’, without which patient care is ‘at risk of being compromised’.
Responding to the letter, Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: ‘Days after one cross-party committee demanded greater clarity, a second group says the delays and disorder put NHS patient care at risk.
‘Continued uncertainty will compromise the ability of the NHS to provide seamless care to patients.’
The letter also points to the effect of uncertainty on businesses operating in both the UK and EU. ‘Businesses and services, like Government, need to plan for all outcomes to avoid any disruption to the supply of medical products
‘However, with only 13 months until the UK exits the European Union on 29 March 2019, healthcare services and businesses, including those manufacturing and distributing medicines, remain in the dark.’
The letter says that many businesses are having to ‘prepare for a worse-case scenario’ as time runs out on the announcement of a transition period.
It argues that the government should ‘seek to agree an implementation period wherein the current regulatory status quo is maintained’ in order to minimise disruption to various areas, such as life sciences and medicine provision.
‘With just over a year to go, ministers still cannot explain our part in the European system for supplying and regulating medicines and medical products after Brexit or during transition,’ said Janet Davies.
‘There is worryingly little clarity on the future of vital health research collaboration with the EU too.’
The letter also criticises the government’s current negotiation position, saying that Downing Street’s policy of ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ could mean that failure to agree all terms of Brexit could result in a damaging situation for the health service.
‘failure to reach an agreement on other sectors of the economy could jeopardise an agreement on medicines, devices and substances of human origin, and put patient care at risk.’
It continued: ‘The Health Committee calls on the UK Government and the European Commission to agree a joint public statement, setting out how both sides will protect the interests of patients in the event of a no-deal.’
For Janet Davies, ‘the Health Secretary must set out his intentions in detail. We must avoid sleepwalking into ‘no deal’ without any planning for the impact on healthcare and we support the call for the Government and European Commission to make a statement protecting patient interests in that eventuality.’