Bored of Brexit? Sure, many people are. But, there are a number of areas of EU policy which have an impact on MS research, treatment and support here in the UK. So, with a week or so to go until ‘B-day’, what do we know about what the UK’s departure from the EU means in reality for people affected by MS?
We know all too well about how valuable the right health and care professional can be in managing MS. But we also know that with or without Brexit, there is currently a staff shortage in the NHS and care services.
And, due to domestic shortages, the health and care sector often relies on workers from outside of the UK. In England, it’s estimated that around 6% of all NHS and adult social care staff are EU or EEA nationals (excluding the UK and Ireland).
There have been concerns that Brexit could mean EU nationals are less able or willing to live and work in the UK. That’s because we might choose to have stricter rules on freedom of movement or the recognition of professional qualifications. Both of these policies are both currently set by EU law and guidance.
But, the UK Government has now made it clear that if your health and care professional is from the EU and has been in the UK for 5 years or more on 29 March 2019, they’ll have the right to stay. If they have been in the UK for less than 5 years, EU citizens still have the right to stay in the UK between 30 March 2019 and June 2021. They’ll have to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme during this period for permission to stay after June 2021.
But, the UK Government has not explained how it will deal with falling numbers of staff from the EU, or how professional qualifications will be recognised in the future. There needs to be strong plans in place to make sure the UK maintains a resilient and diverse health and care workforce.
Currently, for new medicines to be made available in the UK they need to be considered safe and effective (i.e. granted a license) by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The EMA has just moved its headquarters from London to Amsterdam. And, the UK Government is likely to establish a new process to licence medicines.
A new system could mean the UK improves the current process and potentially speeds up access to new medicines. But, if the system is too different to the EMA one, then companies may opt to get drugs approved by the EMA first, as the market is larger, and then come to the UK.
Both the EU and UK Government have said there are clear benefits to continuing to cooperate closely on medicines licensing. That should mean that the UK doesn’t lag behind in access to the most innovative MS medicines – but progress needs to be made in establishing the new licensing process.
A number of people affected by MS have asked whether they ought to stockpile medicines just in case we experience a shortage.
Storing prescribed medicines could mean you’re not following your doctor’s recommendations on when they should be taken. It could also lead to medication going out of date.
The UK Government has asked all drug companies to increase their medicine stock by 6 weeks. This should avoid any delays in getting medicines to people when they need them. Drug companies tell us this measure – and other actions they’re taking – should mean that access to medicines is not disrupted.
We’re speaking to industry and Government regularly to make sure they remain confident medicines will continue to be available. For now, you should follow your doctor’s advice and avoid stockpiling prescribed medicines.
The EU funds research across the continent and beyond, including in MS. The UK has received €11 billion (approximately £9.8 billion) since the latest EU research and innovation funding scheme (Horizon 2020) began in 2014.
The UK government has announced that funding for agreed EU research projects will be guaranteed until the end of 2020, even in the event of a no-deal.
The UK may still be eligible to participate in EU research programmes after Brexit – following the example of countries like Israel, which have an agreement that allows them to be included.
Stopping MS, through the funding of the most impactful research, is clearly a global challenge. Ensuring continued cooperation and funding, is critical.
This is just a snapshot of what might change after Brexit. At the UK MS Society, we want to ensure people with MS are not disproportionately impacted by Brexit. We have been working with the NHS, healthcare professionals, medical researchers and other charities to make sure that we get the best deal for people living with MS.
We remain committed to working with MS organisations across Europe, including Shift.MS, towards our collective vision of a world free of MS. Working together has never been more important.
Georgina is the Head of Campaigns and External Relations at the UK MS Society, and a member of the European MS Platform Executive Committee. In her former life, Georgina worked in Brussels on EU health policy, and her mum lives with MS.