Access to arthritis medication and joint replacements in the advent of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit

31 January 2020
A nurse showing an older lady what tablets to take, in her home.

Updated: 31 January 2020.

In this article we explain what a failure to reach a trade agreement with the EU might mean for access to medication for people with arthritis.

Note: This article outlines the implications of the UK and the EU failing to reach a trade agreement by December 2020. For information on what happens after January 31 2020 during the ‘transition period’ read this article.

Note: The Department for Health and Social Care have recently updated information and advice on a ‘no deal’ Brexit available through the NHS. Our article should be read alongside the official advice and frequently asked questions on NHS England’s website.

A failure to reach a trade agreement after Brexit would bring a series of changes to the relationship between the UK and the EU.

Here we are only focusing on access to medicines and medical devices which include items like the components that are used in joint replacement operations.

What could change?

Under current arrangements, and until the end of the ‘transition period’ in December 2020, medicines and medical devices in the UK are regulated by several laws and agencies at the EU level. These provide a single system across the EU to test, approve and monitor the safety of new and existing treatments and devices.

Following the end of the ‘transition period’, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will take on responsibility for this type of regulation, including how medicines and medical devices are made, imported, supplied and sold.

The MHRA has developed detailed plans to ensure medicines and medical devices would remain approved and available for patients in the UK for a limited period.

This guidance also covered plans to ensure EU-backed clinical trials taking place in the UK can continue, and that importing experimental medicines for trials will continue to be allowed.

How has the Government prepared for this situation? What might this mean for you?

People should continue to obtain prescriptions and use their medicines in the normal way.

In addition, the Government has has unilaterally offered that it will continue to pay for any healthcare costs for current or former UK residents who are living, working in, or visiting the EU in the event of a no deal Brexit until the end of December 2020.

Some EU countries, such as Spain, have already committed to ensuring access to healthcare for UK nationals and the UK Government will also fund, for up to one year, healthcare for UK nationals who have applied for, or are undergoing treatment in the EU before the UK leaves.

However, alongside the above information, the Government has also made it clear that it may not be able to guarantee access to healthcare abroad beyond the end of the transition period, and continues to advise UK residents to take out travel insurance for any overseas travel.

Other questions?

In the short term, it's very difficult to fully understand the potential impact of a failure to achieve a trade agreement with the EU and how it might affect the availability of medicines and access to surgery like joint replacement.

However, we will continue to monitor the ongoing situation to ensure that the needs of people with arthritis are considered.

If you would like to speak about any concerns about access to treatments please call our free helpline on 0800 5200 520. Our lines are open from 9am-8pm Monday to Friday.