Steve Beasant

Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Great Grimsby and Councillor for the East Marsh Learn more

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Experts warn treatments for cancer patients at risk from Brexit

by Steve Beasant on 6 December, 2017

Medical experts have issued a stark warning about the impact of Brexit on the safety of medicines and the supply of materials used to diagnose and treat cancer, in evidence to the Commons Health Select Committee today.

Martin Sawer, Executive Director of the Healthcare Distribution Association, warned that medicines will become less safe for UK patients in the long run without common regulation with the EU, and that without a post-Brexit trade deal the UK will have trouble importing medicines.

Dr Jeanette Dickson, Vice President of the Royal College of Radiologists, highlighted the threat of Brexit to imported radio isotopes which are used for around 700,000 medical procedures each year and cannot currently be made in the UK.

She warned that a significant proportion of patients could lose rapid access to diagnostics and crucial treatments, leading to an increase in deaths from illnesses like thyroid cancer.

Liberal Democrat former Health Minister Norman Lamb commented:

“The Government must listen to these warnings from industry experts.

“It would be intolerable if the supply of vital medical treatments were in any way jeopardised by our departure from the EU.

“A cliff-edge Brexit could have very serious consequences for millions of patients across the country. Ministers must prioritise reaching a swift agreement to avert this.

“It is critical that there is regulatory alignment between the UK and the EU, and arrangements to guarantee the continued supply of medical isotopes so that no patients in the UK are left at a disadvantage.”


See evidence given to the Health Select Committee here (link)

Martin Sawer, Executive Director of the Healthcare Distribution Association: “If there is not common regulation with either the EU or other countries which at the moment exist because of the EU, then medicines will become less safe, I would suggest, for UK patients in the long run.” (14:52)

“The other issue is tariffs, at the moment there’s no tariffs on medicines between us and the other 27 MS, but nor is there from India and China where a good half of the medicines originate… In the worst case scenario if there’s not a trade agreement that will produce a great challenge for trade to be organised properly and systemically following 2019. If it’s not sorted out in a few months then we’ll have great trouble importing medicines. 90% of medicines in the UK imported, 45% from the EU. We do not manufacture that much in the UK.”(14:53)

Dr Jeanette Dickson, Vice President, Faculty of Clinical Oncology, Royal College of Radiologists: “We import about 80% of the medical radio isotopes used in diagnostics. There’s about a million procedures both diagnostic and therapeutic a year, we import about 700,000 of those. The facility to manufacture them in the UK does not exist at the present time. The other 20% you can do some substitution, but the capacity there is limited to increase the amount of radio isotope. And also the cost of those radio isotopes are much more than the ones we import so you’re talking a significant proportion of patients with cancer, with heart disease, with bone disease, with thyroid disorders for example, not having rapid access to diagnostic imaging, not having an assured diagnostic pathway, not being able to know for example whether they’ve had an improvement in their cancer or whether their cancer has spread.” (14:52)

“The treatment of cancer, which is done both by what we call unsealed sources, so medical radio isotopes that you either ingest or you take in by mouth or we inject into you. These cure patients with predominantly thyroid cancers. If we don’t have an assured supply of those, Again the reduction in the rate of cure, more people are going to die of their thyroid cancers.”  (14:52)

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