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Brexit: Patients' access to vital medicines at risk unless government secures pharmaceuticals deal, say MPs

Ben Chapman
'Any delays at the border faced by short-life pharmaceuticals for emergency treatments would have a hugely detrimental impact on patients,' says Labour MP Rachel Reeves: Getty

Patients’ access to vital medicines is at risk unless the government secures a post-Brexit deal for the pharmaceutical industry that ensures the closest possible regulatory alignment with the EU, MPs have said.

Failure to secure a deal that ensures the minimum possible friction at borders, will damage the UK’s world-leading pharma sector, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said in a report published on Thursday.

It warned that prices of vital drugs could “be significantly impacted” if the UK diverges from European Medicines Agency (EMA) regulations. The EMA confirmed in March that it was moving from London to Amsterdam to remain within the EU after Brexit.

The prospect of regulatory divergence from the EMA is the deepest concern for the industry, the report concluded.

It said a separate UK regime could cost £45,000 for each new drug released, making the UK an unattractive market for new and innovative medicines.

This scenario would damage the UK pharmaceuticals industry, which exports £11.9bn of products to more than 446 million potential patients in the EU.

Committee members called on the government to make continued membership of the EMA a priority, and recommended that the government seeks to retain a presence for the EMA in the UK after its relocation to the Continent.

No deal could mean harmful tariffs for many products while border delays put time and temperature-sensitive treatments at risk, the report said.

It concluded: “Barriers to trade and duplicated regulations all could lead to higher prices for medicines, with the NHS and consumers expected to pick up the bill or risk reduced access to medicines.”

Labour MP Rachel Reeves who chairs the BEIS committee, said: “The government’s own analysis identifies pharmaceuticals as the sector for which UK/EU market access is the most important given the industry is reliant on friction-free border movement for their products.

“Any delays at the border faced by short-life pharmaceuticals for emergency treatments would have a hugely detrimental impact on patients.

“The prime minister has previously set out a positive and compelling case for continued cooperation on medicines, but, with the clock ticking, it is now time for the government to end the uncertainty and translate words into actions.

“Some form of membership of the EMA is vital to the continued success of the pharma industry and to the welfare of British patients and the government should strike a deal to keep some of the organisation’s jobs and facilities in the UK, to continue to share our world-leading expertise.

“The government must do all it can to reach an agreement that not only protects the UK’s status as a world leader for pharmaceuticals but also allows patients across the continent to continue to be provided with the medicines they need.”