Cancer and the European Union

On June 23rd, 2016, the UK will vote in a referendum on whether to leave the European Union (EU).

There are many arguments being made to sway the public into voting Remain or Leave. Its coverage in the media has already been extensive and the outcome is one that will change the United Kingdom as we know it.

As somebody who has faced cancer, I am forever grateful for the billions of pounds that were invested into scientific research, healthcare and other forms of governmental support. Even now, over a year in remission, I am still considered high-risk for a second malignancy in the future. So what implications would there be if the UK voted to leave?

Scientific Funding
Between 2007 - 2013, the UK contributed roughly £4.3 billion for EU research projects in a variety of scientific fields. Over the same period, the UK received back nearly £7 billion for the same purpose. 
If the UK left the EU, it is very unlikely that this £2.7 billion deficit will be plugged by the UK government, slowing innovative research and drug discovery processes.

Money aside, the EU's Freedom of Movement policy allows for the open movement of researchers and actively promotes collaborative projects. UK universities often have a mix of nationalities within their research and teaching staff, and it is vital that all brilliant minds are allowed to work together, without barriers.

Access to Overseas Emergency Healthcare
Cancer patients, and survivors, should have the right to a holiday, just like anybody else. The sad truth is that this isn't always possible. Even if there is no immediate threat to their health, travel insurance is simply not an affordable option.

Take me, for example. Declaring my medical condition, here are quotes for basic insurance policies that cover a week's stay in Spain. The cheapest option comes in at £612.68.
Quotations correct on 9th May 2016.

Currently, under EU legislation, all citizens of EU member states are entitled to state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area country. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) covers treatment that is medically necessary until your planned return home.

If the UK leaves the European Union, there is no mandate to guarantee free, or affordable, emergency healthcare for UK citizens while abroad. As a direct impact of this, I, and many others who have experienced cancer, will simply not be able to travel outside of the United Kingdom.

Availability of Medicines
Losing access to the EU market - one of the largest single pharmaceutical drug markets in the world - would be massively detrimental to the UK and its citizens. A major element of the EU regulatory system is the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which approves medicines for all EU countries. Leaving the European Union would mean that the UK must fund and develop its own regulatory framework, which will need to conform to the EU's existing protocols, otherwise it will lose access to that market. This will be a massively complicated and costly move, with the potential to delay life-saving treatments to those who need it.

So what would happen if on the 23
June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU?
Given that a country has never left the EU before, it is probably safe to assume that a period of uncertainty would arise. But how will this insecurity become apparent in the world of cancer? From a financial point of view, what would happen to the EU cancer funding that UK researchers so successfully compete for?

It is almost certain that continuous access to EU funding sources can not be renegotiated, and an enormous resource for improving cancer care in the UK could be lost forever. Furthermore, an extended period of economic uncertainty could have significant effects on health budgets, directly impacting upon health outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged members of our community.

We must ensure, no matter the result of the referendum, that the UK continues to contribute to the European debate in important fields such as clinical trials, data sharing and clinical best practice, while also delivering the highest quality research that leads to the best possible outcomes for cancer patients. I firmly believe that these aspirations can most effectively be achieved if the UK stays within the EU.

Brexit: a European perspective, Tabernero, Josep et al, The Lancet Oncology , Volume 17 , Issue 5, 558 - 559.
Brexit and health services, Hervey, Tamara et al, Clin Med, Volume 16, 101-102.

Joshua Lerner

Hi! I’m the 'star' of Livin' With Lymphoma. The blog was founded on the 31st October 2013, on the day I was diagnosed with Stage 4B Hodgkin's lymphoma. I hope you find it funny and informative.

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