Leaving the EU: Health and Social Care — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:31 am on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Julie Cooper Julie Cooper Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) (Community Health) 10:31 am, 19th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I am grateful to Brendan O’Hara for bringing this time-sensitive subject to the Chamber for debate. It is my pleasure to speak on what must be the most important subject of the day.

It is true that in June 2016, the majority of people in the UK voted to leave the EU. However, they did not vote for a worsening of health and social care provision, for reduced access to medicines or for fewer nurses, doctors and care workers. They did not vote to damage medical research or to leave vulnerable people without social care. It is therefore important that we turn to some of the specifics and seek reassurance on behalf of the British people.

The question of medicines has been much talked about, not least this week in this place. Coming from a pharmaceutical background, I am extremely worried about the Government’s complacency. This is not about scaremongering; it is about listening to the real concerns of patients, patient groups and medical professions. Contrary to the comments made by John Howell, it is not only helpful but vital for those groups to raise their serious concerns. I agree with the Minister that not only is it not Government advice to stockpile medication, but it is dangerous for patients to do so. One can understand why they might be driven to do so, however; it is an indication of the Government’s failure to provide reassurance on that point.

Medication forms an important part of NHS care. Each year, 1 billion prescriptions are dispensed by community pharmacies. For patients with long-term conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and many more, daily medication is an essential part of staying well. Whether we are talking about medication to treat cancer or heart disease, medication for the management of high blood pressure or the occasional prescription for antibiotics, we take it for granted that the medication that we need will be available when we need it.

The pharmaceutical industry is, by definition, an international business. Key ingredients are often manufactured in India and the far east, and transported to specialist manufacturing plants. Many of the plants that supply the UK are located elsewhere in Europe, and the finished products have to be imported into the UK and distributed to hospitals and pharmacies for use with patients. The entire process has to be carefully managed to ensure that everything happens in a timely way. That is particularly true for medicines with short shelf lives, such as the lifesaving EpiPens needed by those with severe allergies. It is also true for medicines with special storage requirements, such as insulin, which has to be kept refrigerated.