The government has commissioned an analysis by professional services consultants Ernst and Young (EY) into the impact of Brexit on the UK medicines supply chain, MPs on the Health Select Committee were told on 23 January 2018.
The results of the investigation, which will include talks with drug manufacturers who have already revealed they are spending millions of pounds preparing for the UK leaving the European Union (EU), may however, remain secret because the information could be commercially sensitive, MPs were told.
Details of the external scrutiny were revealed to the House of Commons health select committee at its continuing inquiry into the impact of Brexit on the UK’s medicines supply chain.
Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt, appearing before the committee, impressed on MPs the importance of protecting the supply chain during the current Brexit negotiations.
He said: “We need to make sure that there is continuity for the supply chain … that will all be part of the different scenarios that we are preparing for.”
Hunt said he was confident about reaching a successful transition agreement with the EU, which would protect both the supply chain and UK patients’ access to drugs.
“It is uniquely damaging to both parties if we don’t come to an agreement … that gives me a lot of confidence that we will ultimately agree what needs to be agreed,” he said.
“It is an absolute priority to make sure that access to new drugs does not slow down as a result of Brexit,” he said.
“We are confident that we can avoid that. When it comes to importing drugs from overseas we are the customers. It would be against our national interest to make it harder to import life-saving drugs.”
Hunt was responding to concerns from MPs who were keen to discover whether the government had carried out any analysis into the risks that Brexit posed for the life sciences industry and for patients, and what measures had been put in place to minimise those risks.
They also asked about any government contingency plans for the possibility of a no-deal — especially if it happened at the last minute.
They wanted Hunt to spell out the impact of Brexit on the government’s life science strategy, the medicines supply chain and what it expected its future relationship to be with the European medicines safety watchdog, the European Medicines Agency.
Hunt reiterated the government’s position statement on medicines regulation post-Brexit.
He told MPs that negotiators were seeking a deal that offered regulatory alignment but “with a different legal structure under it.” He said: “That is the case that we will be making to the EU; that would be our most preferred outcome.”
He said that there was no “intellectual problem or incompatibility” to having “close regulatory alignment” in the long term post-Brexit: “The issue is the legal underpinning to that.”
But, he said, staying in the single market and in the customs union was not an option: “I don’t think that is compatible with what the British people voted for … But I think we can have close regulatory alignment and still be outside the single market. It’s entirely possible.”
Dr Ian Hudson, chief executive of the UK’s medicines safety watchdog the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told MPs he was confident that the UK’s contribution to potentially ground-breaking clinical trials would continue post-Brexit.
Hudson explained that the country could still be involved in multi-national clinical trials regardless of the outcome of Brexit talks, provided it continued to observe agreed protocols and went through the necessary approval process.
“Our ability to run a multinational trial involving the UK doesn’t change,” he said.
“The mechanism for that approval may change but the ability to do it does not change.”