Brexit – how to damage science and healthcare

Brexit seems to dominate everything at the moment and the personality cult of Theresa May is also being thrust down our throats in a strong and stable manner.

Last week I was in Brussels for the EORTC Quality of Life conference, the first it has held for about four years. The question of how Brexit will affect EORTC was raised and quickly answered by Denis Lacombe, the EORTC Director-General. It won’t affect it at all because EORTC is not an EU institution. EORTC is a Belgian charity with a wide range of funding sources, including Cancer Research UK, and its Board has stated clearly that its partnerships will be unaffected.

It raises the same question about other cancer research initiatives, some of which have long term EU funding and involve UK universities and research centres. Their fate will be down to the much anticipated negotiations which, like the previous longest running speculation in history, the Spanish Armada, is being talked up by a right wing media heavily biased towards disaster. The threat is very real. We have EuroEwing and EuroSarc as two sarcoma research projects funded by the European Commission and with a wide partnership. EuroEwing is led by University College London, Oxford University is a prominent participant in EuroSarc. There are many other medical research initiatives funded similarly. What will their fates be?

On the wider subject of scientific research I cannot see any way that Brexit will not be damaging. Unlike the Spanish Armada, which failed to invade, the EU will withdraw to cause significant damage. Mitigating the likely damage and finding ways of ensuring that top quality young scientists will continue to want to pursue their careers in the UK is critical.

Drug regulation is another area. The UK must continue to be a partner in the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Running a parallel approvals process just for the UK would be incredibly costly, we don’t have the skills in the right numbers to handle it, delays would be inevitable, the quality would diminish, and patients would be denied new treatments even when they have been shown to be safe, beneficial and cost effective.

Failing to recognise such hard realities seems to be part of the gaming which is going on.

Sad to hear Nick Clegg on Radio 4 explaining the approach he thought should have been adopted. The so-called soft-Brexit would have aimed to draw European leaders into identifying and discussing areas of mutual benefit early on, with the tougher discussions about trade and migration being drawn out during an established context of working together for mutual benefit. So sensible, so sad that opportunity was not taken.

My final thought is that the 27% of the population who voted to leave the EU would not have voted for poorer healthcare. They didn’t of course – they voted for a brazen lie, £350m a week going into the NHS.

Shall we ever live this down?

In the meantime I enjoy working with EORTC and my presentations at the EORTC QoL Conference are on-line.

Pathway to Patient Benefit 

Survival – diagnosis or lifestyle