Remedying the healthcare Brexit question

What are the two sides saying about the NHS and pharmaceuticals? 

As with all things regarding the European Union (EU) referendum both camps are staking their claim over having the stronger argument for remaining in or leaving the EU.

The “no” campaigners lament that “we won’t be able to dry our hair as quickly as before, our toast won’t be properly browned, and the good old British banger will become a measly chipolata thanks to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg!”

Meanwhile the Europhiles claim that Brexit would leave the UK out in the cold having been frozen out of the international community, households will be worse off financially, and Obama even says we will be at the back of the queue when we want to talk trade with him!

And what of our healthcare?

The Leave campaign, led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, in an open letter in April claimed that the NHS would be better off in the event of Brexit as “£350M per week we hand to Brussels could be spent on our priorities like the NHS”. There is also a claim that we will gain £700M a year as we will no longer have to cover costs incurred through EU health tourism.  

Furthermore, we will escape the negative consequences of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships (TTIPs) – secret trade deals between the US and the EU which could cause the NHS to be broken up as Europe’s public services become open to intervention by US companies.

These points have been dismissed by the Remain campaign, stating that any extra funds acquired by leaving the EU will immediately be used up to cover the financial hole left following the loss of structural funds that we will no longer receive from the EU.

In addition, the Remain camp, believes that in the event of Brexit the NHS will suffer staff shortages once the free movement of people stops and there is no one to do the work EU migrants were previously doing.

In the latest episode of the Leave vs Remain soap opera the team of Lord Rose and Mr Cameron received a boost when an open letter from key players in the UK Life Sciences industry argued that an exit from the EU would harm medical research and development, as well as patients’ access to medicines.

The letter, published in The Observer on 8th May, signed by key players such as CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of Astra Zeneca, Pascal Soriot, and Mike Thompson, CEO of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries highlights that access to medicines may be compromised as regulatory approval of medicines will take longer than if it were part of the EU.  Marketing approval for the use of a drug will need to be sought separately from the current harmonised EMA approval system (which is based in London).  

Then there’s the other grey matter….R&D

In addition, current funding provided to the UK by the EU for research & development (R&D) will cease and this will impact on the UKs ability to collaborate with other prestigious institutions across Europe to carry out cutting edge medical research. A lack of R&D activity would entail a reduction in the level of inward investment currently enjoyed by the UK. Between 2005 and 2015 the UK Biotech industry attracted £924m in initial public offerings and $2.4bn in venture capital, with the UK being seen as the premier EU destination for venture capital.

Exporting pharmaceutical products to the EU generates £53bn for the UK economy, a sum representing more than 56% of total pharmaceutical products exported by the UK. It would therefore not be clear how long it would take to renegotiate trade agreements with our EU neighbours in the event of Brexit and this limbo situation could mean a depletion of the £6bn income the pharmaceutical industry had hitherto been generating for the UK economy.

Let us not forget that the life sciences industry employs around 220,000 people in the UK, thus supporting high end research into treatment for some of the most life-altering diseases. A slowdown in research could therefore have negative consequences both for the health and the wealth of the nation.

As well as the CEOs of AZ and GSK signing the open letter, a number of directors from other large pharmaceutical companies feature on the list. Representatives from Pfizer, Merck Sharpe & Dohme, Abbvie, Novartis and Sanofi are also signatories of the letter. Furthermore, the CEO of Eli Lilly, John Lechleiter spoke earlier this year of his hope for Britain to remain in the EU, and how having the 27 member states as one entity facilities the regulatory and marketing approval process.

The open letter by the Brexit camp is signed largely by doctors, nurses and paramedics plus other unnamed healthcare workers within the NHS. This latest open letter making the case to remain in the EU has CEOs of pharmaceutical companies and research organisations as its signatories.

We await the next round to see what antidote Brexit sympathisers will present next and we will continue to report on the issue here on An Apple a Day from our base in Clerkenwell.


Maria David

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search