What does Brexit mean for someone with MS?: FAQs

I am not one to enter the political realm publicly, so I am not going to entertain doing that here. I am not making a comment of whether I agree with Brexit or not… that is not my intention. This is such an emotive topic for the majority of people, no matter which side of the fence you sit on (or whether you sit rather uncomfortably in the middle feeling very confused and frustrated either way).

There is still a lot of uncertainty over whether we will have a deal or no deal Brexit, and  what either given scenario looks like in reality. Theresa May was not successful in securing the withdrawal agreement with the EU, and so now it falls to Boris Johnson to negotiate the exit. Johnson has said that he would consider a no deal to ensure we can exit before the end of October.

Will there be a deal? Will we leave the EU on the 31st October?

The scary and simple fact is that even if we do, deal or not, this is not going to be resolved immediately after 31st October and the consequences are going to be far reaching into the future either way.

As someone who has a chronic condition (Multiple Sclerosis) it is impossible to know that that might mean for my continued healthcare needs (which can be somewhat more complicated). If you are reading this, you are likely to be someone who also has a condition and are thinking – ‘yes – I feel uncertain too

Advisory: I am not a healthcare professional (although I do work for the NHS) and so always encourage you to seek professional advice and more information if you are concerned about any of these questions. I have only tried to give a brief flavour/round up of the information out there 

Will I still be able to get my medicines?

Currently, the EU contributes to ensuring that the UK has access to a steady and secure supply of safe medicines by making sure medicines go through rigorous clinical trials, and are tightly regulated by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and guarantees there is a good supply chain.

It is expected that medicine supplies will be impacted by a no-deal Brexit, so the Government has already asked for drug companies (such as Novartis, GSK and Astra Zeneca – other drug companies are available) to make sure they have at least 6 weeks back fill of stock. This should mean that you will not have trouble accessing your medications as normal in most cases. There are some medications that have been put on a ‘warning list’ and these include some anti depressants, steroids and high blood pressure medications for example. There have been assurances that there should not be any shortages of MS disease modifying drugs but I am personally going to be keeping watch on this one in the coming months.

If you are worried about accessing your medicines in the coming months, perhaps reach out to your GP, consultant or MS Nurse. They should be able to reassure you and give you updates on whether there are known shortages of the medicines you take. EMSP, MS Society and MS Trust are also in regular contact with the government and industry to get updates on medicines available for UK citizens.

If you do run short of medicines at any time and cannot get them from your local pharmacy – please don’t try and buy medicines online (you have no idea what’s in them, if they are what they say they are or if they have been properly tested).

Will my medicines get more expensive?

If you are someone who lives in either Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland then I believe that your prescriptions are free and should remain to be so after Brexit. In England, it is assumed that the prescription charges will not go up due to Brexit, although as you are aware already, prescription charges do rise in England incrementally in any case.

If you are worried about prescription costs, you might want to consider an NHS Prescription Prepayment Certificate which costs about £10.50 a month. You can also have a chat with your pharmacist, MS nurse or local welfare office to see if you are entitled to any benefits to help you with the cost of medication.

Do I need to start stockpiling my medicines just in case?

Well the short answer to this is no – just carry on collecting your prescriptions and taking medicine as normal. If you have any concerns speak to your GP or MS Nurse.

Having a large store of medicines in your home might mean that you are not taking your medicines as they were intended, or may be taking medicines that are out of date.

The government has asked for drug companies to increase their own stocks (which will be properly stored and recorded) by 6 weeks.

If you are worried, make sure you go and speak to your GP, pharmacist or MS Nurse and see if they can offer you some reassurance/updates on the medicines that are known to be of shortage.

If you do run short of medicines at any time and cannot get them from your local pharmacy – please don’t try and buy medicines online (you have no idea what’s in them, if they are what they say they are or if they have been properly tested).

Who will be approving new treatments? Will there be delays to getting access to new medicines?

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) currently is the body responsible for approving new medicines but once the UK leaves the EU this will need to be decided. The UK government has assured that whether or not there is a deal, a system will be in place after the 31st October, however it is unclear whether it will be a continued relationship with the EMA. If a new system is required, it could present an opportunity for an improved system which may speed up access to new medicines in the future (?)

In the UK, the governing body that regulates our medicines is called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulations Agency. However, the regulations for drug licensing used are all European in nature.

We cannot be sure what the system will be at the moment – fingers crossed it will not cause any delays to accessing new treatments in a timely manner!

My carer is from an EU country – what will happen to them?

Well – this is a tough question to answer. I am certainly no expert on immigration law and I may very well be wrong but as I understand it to be… if the carer has been in the UK for more than 5 years then they should have the right to stay. If they have been in the UK for less than 5 years, EU citizens will be able to stay until June 2021 and up to that date they can apply for settlement for permission to stay in the UK for longer.

If you are worried about your own circumstances, speak to your carer first (they may be able to give some direct reassurance if this impacts them!!), and if you are still concerned contact whoever organises your care (it might be the local council). Consider making a plan about what to do in the event that your carer doesn’t turn up or arrives late (you should have this anyway). Also – chat to your MS Nurses and GP for more advice.

Again, these are just some handy FAQs, so please seek advice from a trained and qualified professional if you have concerns.

Will there be enough nurses and doctors to treat me?

As part of the European Union there is a policy allowing for the freedom of movement between countries, and a recognition of professional qualifications between countries within the EU. This means that health workers (and other professionals such as teachers etc.) are able to come over easily from other countries from within the EU to work. In the UK there is already a shortage of staff within the healthcare sector, in particular in nursing, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (the agency that regulate nursing in the UK) have stated that they have already seen a massive decrease in the number of EU applicants for nursing roles in the UK. This is a concern as the government has not given any real assurance as to how it will deal effectively with the shortfall in staff usually appointed from the EU.

Will there be enough qualified staff to treat us? I cannot honestly say.

Will the UK still be able to participate in EU research?

The UK benefits from a lot of EU funding for research, especially in fields such as multiple sclerosis. It has been suggested that funding will continue to be available for EU research projects until the end of 2020 even if there is a no deal Brexit.

When we are no longer in the EU, we may still be able to participate in EU research programmes similarly to other countries such as Israel, which has been granted an associate status allowing them to be included.

 

 

 

 

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