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This post has been updated following a speech by the Prime Minister at Downing Street in late September.

Brexit dominated the headlines last week, as the Government published the first in a series of plans for how it will respond if the UK doesn’t reach a deal with the European Union by the end of this year – a so-called ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

If there is no deal, the planned 18 months in which the UK would keep EU laws so organisations and business can adapt would be lost, and on March 29 the UK would stop being an EU member overnight. The standards and rules for how the UK trades and cooperates with the EU would also immediately stop applying.

So how would a no-deal Brexit affect cancer patients and research?

What came up for cancer?

The key areas for cancer patients and research in the latest batch of notices were the supply of cancer medicines, approving new drugs and clinical trials.

Now, the UK follows the EU on the licensing of new medicines, ensuring patients have swift access to safe and effective new treatments as soon as they come to market.

The UK also works with EU countries on clinical trials. This is particularly important for rare and childhood cancers, when there often aren’t enough patients in an individual country to run trials that are big enough to give clear results.

A big concern is that losing this cooperation could lead to delays for UK patients getting the newest medicines, or hinder international clinical trials where patients get access to the most innovative treatments.

And from the notices released last week, the Government seem to agree. They confirm that, even if there is no deal, the UK will continue to use EU standards on medicines and clinical trials in the short term. This should mean UK patients can continue to access vital treatments whatever happens.

But even with these steps, the notices make clear that a no deal would still cause disruption – and that drugs companies should stockpile medicines just in case.

Another big issue is immigration. Making it easy for people to move around Europe is essential for cancer research, allowing scientists to work in and collaborate with labs in different countries.

About half of the researchers and PhD students we fund are from outside of the UK. So it was great to hear the Prime Minister guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK whether a deal is reached or not, in a speech at Downing Street in late September.

This gives some important certainty to our scientists and means their vital cancer research can continue. We now want to see the EU make the same promise, so UK researchers in other European countries know that their rights to live and work are protected.

What happens next?

While preparing for a no deal is important, the priority now for both the UK and the EU is to reach a deal. They were hoping to have this done by the middle of October, when European leaders meet in Brussels for a summit. But progress has been slower than expected, and a deal is more likely to come in November or even December.

This deal would sort out the transition period and allow business to go on largely as normal after March 29. This would be much better for cancer patients than a no deal, ensuring that they continue to have access to new treatments and opportunities to join clinical trials.

After this deal is reached the UK and EU would go back to negotiations, fleshing out the details of the future relationship. Big issues like trade will then be decided, alongside how the UK works with the EU on medicines, research and health.

Mark Heffernan is a public affairs manager at Cancer Research UK 

Comments

James Coggins January 30, 2019

I found this article after googling “Cancer Medication Brexit” as I wanted some info on what might happen post-brexit as my wife is recovering from Cancer and will require daily medicine for several years. I have to say I was so disappointed to see the 2 comments below. It’s sad to think that even a Cancer charity can’t publish a blog post without the angry mob rearing their ugly heads.
Why is an organisation who clearly know more than the George’s and Alan McKnights of the world not allowed to say what ‘could’ happen without some red faced old men pulling the project fear card and pushing their pro-brexit agenda? We are living in a time where informed opinions backed by experts are talked down by angry people who wouldn’t know a fact if it hit them square in the face – they’d happily stop donating to a good cause so the whole country can suffer. The medicine supply ‘could’ be affected because of Brexit and Cancer Research have provided facts to support this possibility. At what point are these people going to accept that maybe just maybe they’re taking a leap into the unknown and if people’s lives are worse off as a result, they need to admit that they are responsible. Who cares if we all die of cancer as long as we’re ‘free’ from the EU?

George December 19, 2018

How dare you threaten the British people who have donated millions and millions to cancer research. For the research of new treatments and the bloated salaries of your directors. I for one will never donate another penny. In future ask the European Parliament.

Alan Mcknight November 12, 2018

DISGRACEFUL that you are politicizing cancer as part of project fear. I will be cancelling my monthly donation after nearly 30 years.