​Brexit and Health and Social Care Inquiry

19 May 2017

Author: Leigh Linton
Practice Area: Healthcare
Sector: Healthcare


The Parliamentary Health Committee’s recent report on the work done by this Inquiry gives an interesting insight into some of the issues that Brexit raises for those working in, and regulating, the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors.

Whilst the Inquiry was cut short by the General Election, the Health Committee has identified the following areas as ones where Brexit will have a critical effect:

  • “The UK’s health and social care workforce- both those who are here now, and those we will need in the future
  • Reciprocal healthcare coverage and cross-border healthcare
  • Medicines, products, medical devices, clinical trials and wider health research
  • Public health, including environmental protections and communicable diseases;
  • Resources, including EU agencies, funding programmes, networks and health in overseas aid
  • Market functioning and trade agreements”

Several of these issues are likely to be of particular importance in Northern Ireland, given factors such as the provision of specialist healthcare services on a cross-border basis. It is also notable that in the Belfast Telegraph’s recently published Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2017, 10% of the listed firms were either directly involved in the healthcare or pharmaceutical sectors, or in the supply of specialised products to those sectors.

In terms of the health and social care workforce and the issue of the mutual recognition of qualifications, both the General Medical Council (‘the GMC’) and the Nursing & Midwifery Council (‘the NMC’) have indicated that they consider Brexit offers an opportunity to make changes to the existing regulatory approach. In particular, to enhance competency testing for European applicants for inclusion on UK registers, to ensure it is consistent with competency testing of other doctors qualified overseas. Indeed, the GMC wishes to introduce a common assessment for all medical graduates seeking a place on the medical register, including British doctors trained in the UK. The Health Committee’s view was that any regulatory regime imposed will need to adequately protect patient safety, whilst not being so bureaucratic as to deter the potential applicants needed to ensure an adequate workforce to meet the UK’s needs.

The Health Committee has recommended that future regulatory arrangements should be established by a process which involves consultation with all stakeholders and full Parliamentary scrutiny. It was noted that the Government was considering new primary legislation to reform the professional regulation of health and social care and considers this should be the vehicle to reform the implementation of the ‘Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualification’ directive in UK law. The Health Committee did not consider that this should be amended by way of delegated legislation, under provisions granted by the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.

It was also noted that any future Brexit negotiations should take account of the fact that it would not be in the interests of patients to lose access to the current alert mechanisms which identify potentially dangerous practitioners and which exist as part of EU law on mutual recognition of qualifications.

In terms of reciprocal health, the Health Committee concluded (unsurprisingly) that it was in the interests of British people living across the EU to maintain simple and comprehensive reciprocal healthcare arrangements.

The Health Committee’s work was cut short by the Election before they had an opportunity to fully consider the other issues identified above. The Health Committee did, however, touch on the important issue of whether the UK will remain within the European Medicines Agency. The Health Committee also noted that choices will have to make to ensure safe access to drugs, products and devices of human origin. It was also considered that Brexit may give an opportunity to plug any regulatory gaps in this area and adapt regulation to new technologies and personalised medicines.

The Health Committee Report highlights some of the particular challenges that Brexit will pose to the healthcare sector. It also highlights the opportunities that it will bring and it is to be hoped that those will be grasped.

For more information, please contact Leigh Linton, a Partner in the Healthcare team.