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Call to address risks of leaving Euratom

Ministers are failing to address the risks to health and medical research posed by leaving Euratom, a Lords committee has warned.

The chair of the Lords’ EU home affairs sub-committee Lord Jay of Ewelme has called on the Government to do more to prioritise how the UK will maintain access to radioisotopes and safety standards following Brexit.

In a letter to the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark, Lord Jay outlines a series of recommendations based on evidence his committee had received during its inquiry into the UK’s planned exit from the Euratom treaty.

He said that following evidence from experts such as BMA medical academic staff committee co-chair Michael Rees, his committee had serious concerns that ‘the health implications of leaving Euratom have not been given the priority that they require within Government’.

He says: ‘We are concerned that not enough has been done to engage stakeholders or develop a plan for ensuring a secure supply of medical radioisotopes for the UK post-Brexit.

‘We are also concerned about how changes to nuclear safety standards will impact the import of medical radioisotopes.

‘Professor Rees noted that leaving Euratom would require the UK to reproduce the system of safety checks that is currently underpinned by the UK’s membership of Euratom.

He adds: ‘Government assurances that leaving Euratom will not have any impact on the safe and timely import of medical radioisotopes from the EU are not enough.’

Lord Jay further highlights that Brexit and exiting Euratom could undermine the UK’s status as a world-leading centre for nuclear medicine research, through reduced funding and increased difficulties in recruiting staff from the European Economic Area.

Professor Rees gave evidence to the sub-committee last month, during which he emphasised the potential impacts that the BMA believed exiting Euratom could have for the NHS and medical research.

He says: ‘It is essential that the UK will continue to have consistent and timely access to radioisotopes post Brexit. The UK relies heavily on international supplies, particularly from Europe, of radioisotopes, which play a vital role in diagnosing and treating cancer, among many other medical uses.

‘While the UK could access isotopes from other parts of the world, Europe holds the nearest and most secure supply. Increased waiting and shipping times could have a significant impact on patient care.

‘It is vital for doctors and patients that the Government urgently clarifies how the UK will continue to work closely with the Euratom community post Brexit to ensure consistent, timely access to radioisotopes for medical purposes, and close collaboration on radiation research and safety.’

Through its Euratom membership the UK is able to access radioisotopes, which are essential in the diagnosis and treatment of a number of diseases, from Europe.

The medical implications of leaving Euratom were highlighted by the BMA treasurer Andrew Dearden during a recent podcast on Brexit, health and medical research published by The Financial Times.

During the discussion, Dr Dearden said: ‘We use radioisotopes in all stages, from diagnosis through to treatment, it really is important that we have a secure and consistent supply of these things.

‘We can't stockpile them, we can't store them. It has to be a regular flow otherwise the way we treat patients is going to be affected.’

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