Will Brexit mean the end of the UK's involvement in European health collaborations?

It has been business as usual for European health organisations since the referendum, but what will happen after a Brexit deal is struck?

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union (EU), it is easy to forget that the European Commission and other EU institutions continue their business as usual and press forward with initiatives that affect health, positively and negatively. That’s why the work of European health organisations in Brussels is so important when scrutinising EU proposals and pushing for a greater emphasis on health.

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) was formed in the 1990s, when the EU was given a formal role in protecting and promoting public health. It brings together public health organisations, citizens’ and patients’ groups, healthcare professional organisations and coalitions combatting specific diseases in Europe.

It has played a major role in combatting the power of tobacco lobbyists in Brussels by strengthening EU legislation to limit advertising and to control the ingredients in cigarettes and other tobacco products. More recently, it has been pushing the EU to be more ambitious and better coordinated on tackling antimicrobial resistance. The RCN is providing expert advice to EPHA on this topic as nurses have such an important role to play. It has also been pressing for more comprehensive EU marketing legislation so that it protects babies and children better.

Health technology assessment

The most recent health initiative from the European Commission, which EPHA is tracking, is a proposal for greater mandatory collaboration on health technology assessment between member states.

This could be particularly beneficial for smaller EU countries that do not have organisations such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, in England, or Healthcare Improvement Scotland. However, the initiative is also likely to be contentious as assessments about the added therapeutic value of new treatments and access to medicines are linked to pricing and reimbursement decisions in each country’s healthcare system.

This is another area, in addition to research and disease control, where the UK will need to decide post-Brexit whether it wants to continue to be part of European collaborative work.

Susan Williams is senior international adviser at the Royal College of Nursing

Further information

European Public Health Alliance

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