The British love for the NHS, as one of the British institutions they are most proud of, has been used by the Leave campaign with the famous message on the side of the bus. It promised to pay an extra £350m to the NHS. In reality, since Brexit, the NHS has carried on suffering from underfunding, staff shortages and increasing costs of vital medicines and equipment.
In my article of 2022 I wrote about the impact of the loss of access to two vital European agencies: the European Atomic Energy Community, EURATOM and the European Medicines Agency, EMA:
EurAtom is vital for cancer screening and treatment
EURATOM guarantees the supply of nuclear fuels and ensures the safety of nuclear materials. The UK’s cancer screening as well as cancer treatment depends on research into and the supply of radioisotopes from EURATOM. These cannot be stockpiled as they are highly perishable.
The waiting list for diagnostics and treatment of cancer patients has grown. The latest data by Cancer Research UK shows the latest results in England for August 2023:
Urgent suspected cancer referrals standard: Target Missed
- 74.8% of people were seen by a specialist within 2 weeks of an urgent suspected cancer referral in August 2023. The target is 93% and was last met in May 2020.
The Faster Diagnosis Standard: Target Missed
- 71.6% of people were diagnosed, or had cancer ruled out, within 28 days of an urgent referral in August 2023. The target is 75% and has never been met since its introduction in October 2021.
The 62-day standard: Target Missed
- Only 62.8% of people in England received their diagnosis and started their first treatment within 2 months (or 62 days) of an urgent referral in August 2023. This is well below the target of 85%, which has not been met since 2015, with a record low in January 2023.
The 31-day standard: Target Missed
- 91% of people started treatment within 31 days of doctors deciding a treatment plan in August 2023. The target is 96%.
Since both early diagnosis and timely treatment are known to be essential for a good chance of surviving cancer, these delays are very likely costing lives.
Why the EMA matters
The EMA is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines in the EU. It is a networking organisation whose activities involve thousands of experts from across Europe carrying out the work of the EMA’s scientific committees. The UK, as a non-EU country, neither participates in the work of the EMA nor profits from the results of that work.
We read daily stories about how much stress the NHS is under, some admittedly as an aftereffect of the pandemic which affects the global medicine industry. But being outside the EMA adds the additional issue of transport cost and delays due to paperwork and customs processes.
The impact of Brexit on the NHS and the supply of medicines has not had as much media attention as it would deserve. I wasn’t exaggerating, when I said in my article that,
“Despite the fact that at least 20 million people and even more animals’ lives are affected by it, you might not know about some of the effects of leaving the EU. There should have been a health warning. The pandemic starting at the beginning of 2020 has overshadowed some and partly hidden the impact of the UK not being part of EU agencies and institutions.”
(My tweet on this)
Health expert on Brexit impact on medicine supply
The Independent newspaper published a special report saying
The Independent reports on data by leading health experts on post-Brexit problems in the health service. There are shortages of antidepressants and high blood pressure medicines. I have noticed that my pharmacist has not been able to supply me with the same make of blood pressure pill, which is vital for avoiding strokes or heart attacks. I hope they can find alternatives as worrying about vital medicines is not exactly good for my blood pressure.
The NHS is also forced to pay higher prices for antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medicines which are reported to be in desperately short supply this winter. We know that antibiotics do not kill viruses, but are needed urgently for bacterial inflammations like pneumonia, a danger to elderly patients.
Professor Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the health of patients who rely on these day-to-day, often life-saving medications is being put at risk.
“There are many things Brexit is making worse for the NHS. The fact that there are extra problems managing medicines is very far from ideal. Medicines go out of date – so it’s not possible to stockpile everything, and it’s very difficult to match supply with demand when you have these problems in supply chains and non-tariff barriers because of Brexit.”Professor M. McKee
Is it not enough that we are seeing in the course of the Covid enquiry how badly our government has dealt with the pandemic? On Saturday, I walked along the long wall by the Thames, on the South side, which is a sea of red hearts in memory of people who died through Covid.
Prevention must become a vital part of health treatment to avoid further mass tragedies. The government must arrange for a deal with the EU to ensure the supply of cheaper, vital medicines. The best option would be to join the Single Market and the Customs Union. I hope the next government will act in the interest of the nation’s health and not on ideological dogma. Otherwise we could end up with an even longer wall in memory of avoidable deaths by Brexit.