The UK government has failed to address major post-Brexit issues affecting health and social services nearly a year after the country left the EU, according to a report by a think tank which blames the ministers to delay decisions and negotiate “precision”.
A Nuffield Trust report, published on Monday, suggested pledges to keep the NHS and drug prices ‘off the table’ in new trade talks were largely meaningless without specific commitments to ensure the service health would not have to pay more for drugs.
Restricted access to EU science funding and staffing pressures compounded by immigration constraints are among other things that have yet to be satisfactorily addressed, he warned.
Mark Dayan, senior policy analyst at the trust, said the protracted struggle to negotiate a Brexit deal was meant to bring “clarity and some certainty to the UK health and care sector”. But nearly a year after the UK left the bloc, the effects were only beginning to be felt, sometimes masked by the severe shocks to health services and the economy caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The government’s approach to the effects of Brexit on health and care has fueled uncertainty in the UK health sector. With no answers to key decisions, the ongoing tension between the UK and the EU and a secret process without engagement with health and care have already had direct impacts…” Dayan said.
The report focused on the potential outcomes of future trade deals, suggesting discussions with potential partners did not appear to include any plans to deliver benefits to the UK healthcare sector. If deals were struck that included protections for investment and the provision of cross-border services, it could be difficult for a future government to remove the current right of foreign private companies to bid for contracts in England’s NHS, it said. he declares.
Nuffield also raised concerns that under these deals the NHS could end up paying more for the drugs. For example, if companies were allowed to hold exclusive rights to their medicines for longer, the NHS could be prevented from switching to cheaper generic versions, he suggested.
The obvious way to demonstrate that the NHS “is not on the table” was for it to be excluded entirely from chapters of trade agreements covering services or investment, according to the report. “However . . . the officials we spoke to were not fully convinced that there was absolute commitment in this regard,” he added.
Another key area that has yet to be fully resolved relates to access to medicines and medical devices for patients in Northern Ireland.
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Under proposals from the European Commission announced on Friday and welcomed by the pharmaceutical industry, Brussels will legislate to allow UK-approved drugs to enter the region.
However, Nuffield argued that “unilateral arrangements to accept incoming goods from Britain will not, on their own, be enough” to ensure frictionless export and import. She underlined the continued existence of a GB-NI customs border.
Tamara Hervey, professor of European law at City, University of London, said the position of the NHS in Northern Ireland had become critical. “Northern Ireland’s relatively small supply of NHS products is at risk as market players make rational decisions about supplying this market, taking into account the costs associated with the different possible trade routes” , she added.
The government said the EU proposals followed discussions between the UK and EU teams. “They could be a constructive way forward, and we are prepared to consider them positively, but as we have not been able to examine the texts in the necessary detail, we are not yet in a position to this judgment with confidence,” he added. .