As I mentioned in my last post, I recently wrote to Pauline Latham, MP for Mid-Derbyshire, to ask about the impact of leaving Euratom and the EMA on lymphoma patients (*).
My first question was:
I understand that your government intends to withdraw from Euratom as part of our exit from the European Union. Could you advise me what the impact of this decision will be on the availability of medical radioisotopes used in the treatment of my condition, for example, during a PET/CT scan.
The substantive response to this question came in the 5th paragraph of her letter to me.
I do not believe that leaving Euratom will have any adverse effect on the supply of medical radio-isotopes. Contrary to what has been in some reports, medical radio-isotopes are not classed as special fissile material and are not subject to nuclear safeguards. Therefore, the UK’s ability to import medical isotopes from Europe and the rest of the world will not be affected.
This is a clear response – albeit one that is at odds with independent fact checkers fullfact.org, who state that this belief …
[…] isn’t certain, and will depend on what future arrangements are negotiated. The UK may find it harder to guarantee a supply after leaving.
That my MP is happy to be held accountable for any interruption in supply of medical radioisotopes caused by an exit from Euratom and the EU is therefore commendable.
My second question was:
Furthermore, I also understand that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has decided to relocate from London and that as part of our exit from the European Union, alternative arrangements to approve medicines will need to be made. Could you reassure me that plans have been enacted to ensure that approvals will not be disrupted after our exit, and that there will be no additional waiting time for new treatments to be approved compared to citizens of the other 27 European Union countries?
Her response to this concern was rather less clear-cut.
The UK is fully committed to continuing the close working relationship with our European partners, and as part of the negotiations the Government will discuss with the EU and Member States how best to continue cooperation in the field of medicines regulation (including with the European Medicines Agency).
Our aim is to ensure that patients in the UK and across the EU continue to be able to access the best and most innovative medicines, and be assured that their safety is protected through the strongest regulatory framework and sharing of data.
We’re 13 months away from our EU exit. Hope is not a strategy. There’s no obvious plan here as far as I can work out and her answer worries me a lot. Especially when you hear Leslie Galloway, the chair of the Ethical Medicines Industry Group, talk about the issue. He provides a cogent argument that the consequences of leaving the EU will be that new medicines will be delayed by up to two years. For mantle cell lymphoma patients, such a delay could be the literal difference between life and death.
I start my first cycle of chemotherapy on Thursday. Many people currently seem to think that Brexit is purely about what kind of trade deals we can strike. It quite clearly isn’t. We need to remember that, and make sure that our MPs remain accountable for all of their decisions on this matter.
(*) A copy of my letter is available here and the reply is here.