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Media And Political Bulletin – 01 October 2018

Media and Political Bulletin

01 October 2018

Media Summary

Tory MP: Government must be honest about NHS Brexit costs

Politico, Katie Jennings, 27 September 2018

Politico reports that the Conservative MP, Sarah Wollaston, is ‘on a mission to sound the alarm about the impact of a no-deal Brexit’ on the NHS, ‘even if it costs her a seat in Parliament.’

Wollaston, Chair of Parliament’s Health Committee, and before that a practicing NHS doctor for 24 years, said the government is failing to be honest about the true costs. Far from offering a €350-million-a-week boon for the NHS as advertised by the Leave campaign, Brexit is threatening the viability of the health system. She stated that ‘the reality is it’s going to be costing the NHS money, it’s not going to be bringing any.’

Wollaston also rejected the idea that Prime Minister Theresa May can partly fund her promised £20 billion NHS cash injection by 2023 with the so-called Brexit dividend. ‘It may cost me my job, because I know it’s very unpopular for me to keep saying this, but I do feel I came into politics to talk about evidence and evidence-led policy. I can’t just stand by and not be saying loud and clear what I think the implications will be for health and social care,’ she said.

Parliamentary Coverage

There was no parliamentary coverage today.

Full Coverage

Tory MP: Government must be honest about NHS Brexit costs

Politico, Katie Jennings, 27 September 2018

Far from offering a €350-million-a-week boon, Brexit threatens the finances of the U.K.’s National Health Service and the government is failing to be honest about the costs, according to Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston.

“The reality is it’s going to be costing the NHS money, it’s not going to be bringing any,” the chair of parliament’s health committee told POLITICO in an interview. “We’re kicking the can down the road about honest discussions about where that money comes from as well as actually piling extra costs and headaches on the NHS. It’s a very serious situation.”

Wollaston, a practicing NHS doctor for 24 years, is one of 12 Tory MPs who defied Prime Minister Theresa May by voting for an amendment to require the government to negotiate to stay in the European Medicines Agency after Brexit in July.

She is also one of a handful of Conservatives to have joined the People’s Vote campaign to call for a second Brexit referendum. With her position driven in part by her committee’s inquiry into the implications of Brexit on health care, she says she is willing to stake her political career on raising her concerns.

“There was absolutely no doubt in my mind having listened to that evidence that it would be very bad for our health service and for public health,” she said.

The financial hit to the health service will come regardless of whether the government reaches a deal with the EU, according to Wollaston, though she says it will be far worse if the U.K. crashes out in March.

As the government publishes a series of papers on no-deal planning, including on medicines supply and regulations, Wollaston said her party needs to be upfront about the bill for taxpayers. “I’m glad they’re doing the contingency planning … What I find slightly galling is that nobody is setting out for the public clearly what the cost of all of this is,” she said.

The government has put the onus on pharmaceutical companies to stockpile an extra six weeks of drugs supplies and make plans to air freight products that have short shelf lives, such as the radioisotopes used in diagnostic imaging.

“Refrigerating warehousing is not cheap and you need to factor in the cost of all the planning requirements, all the commissioning, the building. The cost of all that isn’t free. It gets passed on in the price of medicines to the NHS,” Wollaston said.

Wollaston said she’s also concerned about Brexit disruption to the research pipeline, clinical trials and the testing and safety of medicines. The health committee this month opened a new inquiry into the effect of a no-deal Brexit, with responses due by October 15.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care declined to provide estimates on the cost of Brexit preparations. “The Government is offering to provide support to suppliers in stockpiling medicines and will review exactly what that support will entail following correspondence with the industry,” spokesperson Robbie Gordon wrote in an email.

When asked whether NHS spending could be hit by higher drug prices, Gordon said the price of branded medicines is fixed and that while the cost of generics fluctuates due to market forces, the government would “continue to monitor prices and respond appropriately to ensure maximum value for money on behalf of the taxpayer is achieved.”

Mark Dayan, a policy and public affairs analyst at the Nuffield Trust, said stockpiling alone could cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

“If you look at the amount of pharmaceuticals that [the U.K.] imports from Europe, it’s in the ballpark of £20 billion pounds,” he said, estimating manufacturers will be on the hook to stockpile around a tenth of a year’s worth of prescription drug supplies.

“But I really think it’s missing the point to ask how much it costs the NHS. The real problem that a no-deal Brexit will cause the NHS financially is in terms of damaging the tax revenues that pay for the NHS,” Dayan said.

May promised a cash injection of £20 billion a year by 2023 for the NHS, funded in part by the money the U.K. will no longer send to Brussels. Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHS England chief Simon Stevens are expected to publish their long-term funding plan “by the end of the year,” Gordon said, with the Treasury on the hook to set out how it will be financed in its October 29 budget.

Wollaston’s position is that none of the extra funding will come from the U.K. leaving the EU. “There is no Brexit dividend,” she said.

Real-world scrutiny

With the government’s razor thin majority in parliament, backbencher Wollaston and other vocal Remain Conservatives are important in the mathematical calculations of getting any Brexit deal through the House of Commons.

“There is now no [deal] whatsoever that you could put before Parliament that isn’t going to leave the majority in the country unhappy,” Wollaston said.

Elected eight years ago through the first open primary to get people from different backgrounds into politics, Wollaston has never been beholden to the political machine in the same way as some of her peers.

“It may cost me my job, because I know it’s very unpopular for me to keep saying this, but I do feel I came into politics to talk about evidence and have evidence-led policy. I can’t just stand by and not be saying loud and clear what I think the implications will be for health and social care,” Wollaston said.

The issue of NHS funding is what drove Wollaston from her self-described “soft-leave Eurosceptic” stance to the strong Remain position she holds now. Her decision to switch sides in June 2016 was driven by “misleading data” from the Leave campaign, she said, exemplified by the now infamous advertisement promising £350 million per week for the NHS on the side of a red bus.

However, Wollaston said she doesn’t see herself — or her fellow group of vocal Tory Remainers — as rebelling against the government, though that’s how they’ve been labeled by the press.

The real rebels, Wollaston said, are MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers who she said are waging an active campaign to unseat May and drive the Conservative Party further to the right.

“At the moment, my feeling is that it’s absolutely right for the people who are in the moderate center ground to stay and fight and make their case within the party,” Wollaston said.

Fellow Remain Conservative MP Dan Poulter, who is also a practicing physician, said it’s important that Wollaston in her role as chair of the health committee continues to “scrutinize” the impact Brexit will have on the NHS.

“When you’ve practiced in the real world of medicine, you understand the impacts of laws and rules made by parliament on real people’s lives,” he said.

Media And Political Bulletin – 01 October 2018

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