Public Health and Economical Risks Mounting as Brexit Uncertainty Continues

January 18, 2019

Following the defeat of the UK's Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit withdrawal deal, substantial uncertainty around Brexit remains and risks to public heath and the economy are mounting.

Following the historic defeat of the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit withdrawal deal on Jan. 15, 2019, and despite the ‘no confidence’ vote survival, substantial uncertainty around Brexit remains and significant economy contributions from healthcare are at risk, according to some experts.

Speaking about how Brexit may impact the UK healthcare industry’s contribution to the economy, Gavin Davidson, pharma analyst at GlobalData explained that as Brexit draws nearer and the potential of a ‘no-deal’ scenario becomes greater, the biopharma industry’s opinion of the UK as an attractive research and manufacturing base has lessened. “In a series of quarterly surveys (Q1–Q3), GlobalData asked key respondents from the United States, UK, and European Union healthcare markets, whether or not they thought that the UK will remain an attractive place to do central business,” he said. “In all markets, decreases in ‘yes’ answers were observed. However, in the UK and EU markets, confidence has collapsed with abysmal rates of 17% and 19%, respectively, after Q3.”

Davidson continued to explain that if the UK is to maintain its position within pharma and biotechnical investment and development, certainty on the outcome of Brexit is imperative. “… the stakes couldn’t be higher with the healthcare industries' £70 billion (US$88.5 billion) per annum contribution to the UK economy at risk if the country ends up with a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, an outcome that the EU has now escalated its planning for,” he added.

These sentiments were echoed by Alexandra Annis, managing pharma analyst at GlobalData who stated that even though Theresa May (UK PM) survived the recent vote of no confidence, the defeat of her proposed withdrawal deal leaves sizeable uncertainty. “As of October 2018, ‘No Brexit’ was compellingly the best outcome of Brexit for pharma as indicated by 60% of respondents in the pharmaceutical sector who participated in GlobalData’s survey on the impact of Brexit on the healthcare sector,” she remarked. “The regulatory implications of the UK leaving the EEA, disruption to the cross-EU supply chain, and funding for research and manufacturing are just a few of the concerns for the UK healthcare industry after Brexit. The pharmaceuticals industry is one of the largest and most dynamic in the UK, and is a major contributor to the economy.”

The potential impact of Brexit on patients is already being seen in the UK with pharmacists warning of a rise in difficulty of obtaining a number of common medicines and paying higher prices for the drugs, as reported by the BBC on Jan. 18, 2019. According to the BBC, common drugs that pharmacists are struggling to obtain include painkillers, anti-depressants, and blood pressure medicines.

Responding to the government vote against the withdrawal deal, the president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Ash Soni, stated, “We remain consistently focused on how pharmacists can provide the best care to patients during and beyond Brexit. Our exit from the EU has wide-ranging implications for medicine supply, science, and research and the health and care workforce in the UK. We are continuing to talk to the government about contingency planning, looking at measures to enable pharmacists to provide the best access to medicines in the event of potential shortages.”

European representation of the industry, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), has noted the rejection of the withdrawal deal and stressed that should the UK leave the EU in a disorderly manner come March 29, there will be immediate threats to patient safety and public health on both sides of the Channel. “Now is the time for policy makers in the UK and the EU to put politics aside and pit measures in place to prevent patients being harmed by the consequences of Brexit,” stressed Nathalie Moll, EFPIA director general in a Jan. 15, 2019 statement. “In particular from disruption to the supply of medicines including from transport delays at the border and where the development, manufacture, packaging, safety testing, and regulation of the medicine no longer benefits from mutual recognition.”

The EFPIA has called for urgent action by the EU to protect the medicines supply in a ‘no-deal’ scenario and has published a list of actions it believes need to be taken to protect patients.

From a manufacturing perspective, the message around the current Brexit dilemma is clear as noted by Stephen Phipson, CEO of the manufacturers’ organization, EEF, in a commentary on Jan. 16, 2019. “After two years of negotiations, Westminster has failed to deliver a workable plan for Brexit. Parliament’s pantomime now continues while business suffers impossible uncertainty, which will only worsen investment and the worrying business climate,” he said. “EEF has been consistent: no deal would be disastrous for UK manufacturing and its 2.7 million jobs. The government and parliament must act collectively, swiftly, and decisively in the best interest of the people and the economy. The time for theatre is over.”

As both the UK and EU race towards the Brexit deadline date, there are three options on the table: Parliament agrees on a newly formed plan, to be presented to ministers on Monday Jan. 21, 2019 and voted upon by Jan. 29, 2019; the UK leaves the EU with no deal; or Article 50 is revoked and the UK remains a part of the EU permanently. 

Whatever route is finally chosen one thing is painfully clear-the clock is ticking and time is running out.

Sources: GlobalDataBBCRoyal Pharmaceutical SocietyEFPIA