UK's Health Research Status 'at Risk From No-deal Brexit'

Peter Russell

October 12, 2018

UK science and the country's international research reputation could be damaged in the event of any post-Brexit immigration restrictions, research published this week concluded.

The study by King's College London and Queen's University Belfast, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine , warned of a knock-on effect that would see a reduction in the quality of healthcare in the UK.

Their analysis found that since 2004, doctors from the European Union (EU) had become the largest cohort of foreign-qualified practitioners in the UK, with Eastern European doctors predominating during the last decade. It also confirmed an increasing number of UK-based fellows of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences who had come from European countries.

Lead researcher and King's College London academic Mursheda Begum said: "Our results indicate a very positive and statistically significant contribution of European scientists, academics and medical practitioners to the UK research base and the provision of clinical care.

"Many immigrants have built strong careers that have been rewarded by prestigious fellowships because they have impacted positively on UK research."

Co-author Prof Richard Sullivan said there were concerns about how a no-deal Brexit would affect NHS services and patient care, health research and international cooperation and that it's "vital that national diversity in high-quality human capital is maintained in a post-Brexit UK research and healthcare environment".

Brexit Effect on UK Trials

According to a report on Reuters , the number of new clinical trials started in the UK last year was 25% lower than the average for 2009 to 2016.

A total of 597 trials were initiated in Britain in 2017, against an average of 806 over the previous 8 years, it said, quoting an analysis by Fitch.

The report said confidence among pharmaceutical companies had been dented by concerns that research data collected in the UK might be unacceptable to the European Medicines Agency after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

Clinical trials of a new heart drug have been stopped in the UK because of concerns over Brexit.

The analysis came as medical research firm Recardio announced it had suspended all UK activities due to uncertainty over how new medicines would be approved after Brexit.

The company was due to trial the heart drug dutogliptin on patients in Clydebank, Leeds, and Exeter.

Dr Sheuli Porkess, deputy chief scientific officer at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: "The UK is a world leader in clinical trials, with pharmaceutical companies investing around £4.2 billion into UK research and development every year. Clinical trials are critical to both the success of the NHS and ensuring we develop new medicines for the future.

"We know from our members that Brexit-related uncertainty is a major concern when it comes to decisions about whether to set up trials in the NHS. This is why it's vital that we get a Brexit deal to keep the investment and skills in clinical trials here in the UK."

Medicines Shortages 'Remain a Concern'

Problems with the supply and approval of medicines were inevitable without an agreement on the UK's departure from the EU, the head of Britain's pharmaceuticals industry warned this week.

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, told MPs that manufacturers were increasing stocks of medicine and duplicating testing in the EU. However, he warned that some eventualities were "completely out of our control, which can only be fixed by a UK/EU deal on the future of medicines".

He told parliament's Exiting the European Union Committee that stockpiling drugs in the event of a no-deal Brexit would not guarantee continuity of supply because there were medicines "which simply can't be stockpiled due to temperature control, short shelf life or inability to travel".

The Government asked manufacturers in August to build an additional 6 weeks of medicine stockpiles to cope with potential disruption

However, Mr Thompson told MPs on Wednesday: "I'm not really convinced that everybody has fully understood what we are setting ourselves up for."

Australian Tobacco Warnings After a No-deal Brexit

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, current graphic warnings on cigarette packets would be replaced by Australian versions, the Department for Health and Social Care announced on Monday.

It said the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 would remain in force, with minor amendments to ensure it still worked effectively after March 29th, 2019. However, the UK would need new picture warnings for tobacco products as the copyright for the existing library is owned by the European Commission.

It said the Australian government had agreed to make its pictures available to the UK.

EMA Move to Amsterdam on Track

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced that it had temporarily suspended or reduced additional activities as it continued its relocation from London to Amsterdam in the run up to Brexit.

The EMA said this was in line with phase III of its Brexit preparedness business continuity plan that started on October 1st.

Measures included scaling back of guideline development and revision.

The EMA said the move would help the Agency cope with anticipated staff losses.

Noël Wathion, the EMA's deputy executive director, said: "Over the next few months, EMA will continue to carefully monitor staff intentions to relocate and the anticipated impact on its activities whilst planning for the critical time period when the Agency will be moving to its new premises in Amsterdam."

Editor's Note: Is Brexit all doom and gloom? Please let us know in the comments section or by email to if there are positive aspects for medicine and healthcare for the UK leaving the EU we've not yet covered.


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