What does the UK-EU trade deal mean for people with arthritis?

11 January 2021
Dan stood next to a kitchen worktop in his home.

This article is based on information available up to 6 January 2021.

On 31 January 2020, the UK left the EU and entered a transition period which ended on 31 December 2020.

On 24 December 2020, it was announced that a Trade and Cooperation Agreement – commonly referred to as a Trade Deal - had been reached between the UK Government and the European Commission.

Read the Government’s guidance on the rules which came into force from 1 January 2021.

Availability of medicines and medicinal products

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) set out plans in August 2020 for suppliers of all categories of medicines and medicinal products.

Suppliers were asked to review their supply routes and hold a target level of six weeks stock of medicines and medicinal products in the UK.

This was intended to minimise any potential disruption to supply after the end of the transition period.

The Government advice is that medicines should be prescribed and dispensed as normal and patients should continue to order their prescriptions as normal.

Patients are asked not to stockpile medicines for their own use as this could create shortages that would not otherwise have occurred.

Shortages can occur for various reasons, which may be unrelated to the UK leaving the EU. Pharmacists have access to a new mechanism called Serious Shortage Protocols, or SSPs, which allow the DHSC to authorise temporary alternatives when medicines are unavailable for any reason.

In the event of a severe shortage which is already covered by an SSP, pharmacists must use their judgement to decide whether it is appropriate to substitute your prescribed medicine.

No changes will be made without your agreement and you can be referred back to the GP or healthcare professional who prescribed it to discuss alternative treatments if you prefer.

Regulations of medicines and medicinal products in the UK

Now that the UK has left the EU, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the UK’s standalone medicines and medical devices regulator.

This includes making sure medicines and medical devices used in the UK are safe, effective and meet quality standards. The UK also now undertakes its own independent certification of batches of biological medicines imported from the EU.

Clinical trials in the UK

The Trade Deal means that UK researchers will continue to be able to take part in a number of EU research programmes.

MHRA regulates clinical trials which take place in the UK. There are no immediate changes to the way that researchers share new information about trials which may be of interest to people with arthritis.

Patients who are already involved in a clinical trial should continue to participate in accordance with information they have been given by the person in charge of the trial.

For more information about UK health and social care research take a look at the resources on Be Part of Research.


Before the UK left the EU, the UK Government introduced legislation to make sure that healthcare professionals who registered in the EU and Switzerland could continue to register to practise in the UK.

The Trade Deal extends this, introducing a near-automatic system of recognition for professional qualifications for at least two years from 1 January 2021.

Non-UK researchers now need to apply for a visa from the Home Office in order to enter, live and work in the UK. Workers in certain sectors, including research will be able to take advantage of the Global Talent visa route launched in February 2020.

Healthcare for UK travellers to the EU

The Trade Deal means that UK residents continue to have access to emergency and necessary healthcare when they travel to the EU.

Healthcare in each European country is different and it is important to check requirements well in advance of travel.

Specific guidance is available for people travelling with pre-existing health conditions. Find out more on the Gov UK website.

Keeping you updated

The Trade Deal has removed much of the immediate uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Further details will become available in coming months.

We will continue to monitor announcements which could impact people with arthritis, carers and families and we will publish any relevant updates to this article.

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