‘Reckless’ Brexit deal puts NHS Scotland patients at risk

Health minister Jeane Freeman. Picture: Michael Gillen
Health minister Jeane Freeman. Picture: Michael Gillen
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A no-deal Brexit could have “substantial financial implications” for the NHS in Scotland, and could also see some patients forced to wait longer for important medication, a new report has warned.

If tariffs are put in place after the UK quits the European Union, life sciences firms fear the cost of drugs could rise if products cross the UK/EU border multiple times during the manufacturing process.

A new paper, produced for IQVIA and Q2 Solutions – who between them employ 940 people in the sector in Scotland – is now calling on the UK government to ensure the free movement of medicines and biological samples can continue post Brexit. Speaking as it was launched at Q2 Solutions laboratory at the Alba Campus in Livingston, West Lothian, the company’s vice-president Tony Brown warned: “A no-deal Brexit, reverting to WTO [World Trade Organisation] rules, could have significant financial implications for the NHS in Scotland, and the wider life sciences sector.

“That is why we are calling for a longer transition period and a specific deal around our ongoing relationship with the European Medical Agency (EMA).”

He spoke out after the paper called for the life sciences sector – which employs some 37,000 people in Scotland and contributes £2 billion to the economy – to be “kept front and centre of the Brexit negotiation process”. Companies exporting drugs to the EU could face non tariff barriers, such as the need for extensive batch testing of their products after Brexit, with additional regulatory approval another prospect.

This could take 12 months, the paper warned, adding: “The time and costs required in the re-testing of medicines will drive up company costs, and substantial delays could have an adverse effect on essential medicines which have a limited shelf life and/or require cold storage. “

Meanwhile “costly and time-consuming” customs controls could be imposed if Britain is no longer part of Europe’s custom union “with serious risks of limiting and delaying patient access to medicines”.

Scottish Labour MSP and People’s Vote campaigner Kezia Dugdale said: “This damning report exposes the impact of crashing out of the EU without a deal for our struggling NHS.

“Hospitals are already under incredible pressure, with patients waiting too long to be seen and dedicated staff unable to deliver the care they want to.

“A reckless no-deal Brexit, which Tory ministers are talking up, would turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

“Contrary to what the UK government is claiming, there is an alternative to Theresa May’s bad deal or no deal – it’s keeping the deal we currently have by holding a People’s Vote with the option of remaining in the EU.”