“Things are never quite as bad or as good as people believe. We need to ensure that there isn’t a downward spiral in expectations. If we are going to make an opportunity of this, let’s go for it gung ho.” Lord Lansley delivered this statement during last week’s Healthcare Professional Interest Networkevent at the Business School. An audience of over 100 alumni, students, guests and staff attended this panel discussion with prominent healthcare professionals, addressing the potential impact of Brexit on the NHS.
An initial poll of the audience showed there was an overwhelming feeling that Brexit will be a disaster for the UK Life Sciences Sector, as opposed to an opportunity, with issues such as access to skills and talent, investment and capital, and research funding being hardest hit. Although all the panel members were ‘remainers’, they provided a positive look on the possible opportunities to the sector that Brexit might provide.
The three panel members were:
- Lord Lansley – former Secretary of State for Health
- Richard Phillips– Director of Health Policy, Association of British Healthcare Industries and Non-Executive Director of West Midlands and South West Peninsula Academic Health Science Network
- Professor Azeem Majeed– Chair in Primary Care and Public Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College
All the panelists agreed that the country must move forward, with Lord Lansley stating that: “If we believe Brexit is a disaster, the rest of the world is going to believe it is a disaster.”
Having people come here, invest here, work here, want to do their research here and live their lives here will depend on us seeing this as an opportunity to be more open and internationalist. Not a decision that turns us inward and negative. We can’t be open to the rest of the world, by closing Britain down
This attitude was shared by other panel members with Richard Phillips agreeing that Brexit is an opportunity to redesign our services to address the changing demands of healthcare and be a catalyst for change.
Professor Azeem Majeed noted that several key areas of focus should be on continuing to attract healthcare professionals from across the world to meet the future demands of the NHS. He also acknowledged this is a two-way process and we must allow British nationals to work aboard and benefit from the opportunities this affords.
As the discussion opened up to the audience the issue of ‘control’ and freedom of movement was one that came up several times. Lord Lansley advised that the Government must make clear what the definition of ‘taking back control’ really means. For example, does it mean reducing the number of people who come to work in the UK from overseas? Or does it just mean taking back control and focusing on the people that we do need, and the specific industries and sectors that are important. “There are some industries which rely on the ability to bring in well qualified people, otherwise they cannot run as effectively as they should.”
Phillips agreed saying: “We must continue to attract the brightest and the best people to the sector. The NHS is supported by professionals from across the world and will continue to need this to be effective.”
One question centred on industry concern about the transitional period of Brexit and how should the sector address the issue of limited people coming in and limited market access.
Phillips advised looking to other countries for examples of how to boost the Life Sciences Sector, citing Ireland as a good example following their substantial investment in attracting young people into STEM industries and providing tax incentives for companies. He felt that the UK is still in a very strong position as a Tier 1 market, benefiting from the NHS, the best universities, the best regulators – for example the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – and huge interest from US companies. Phillips argued that there was no reason as to why this couldn’t continue with careful planning and management.
Professor Majeed was pragmatic in his approach stating: “We have no choice but to make it work. The Life Sciences Sector remains a priority in the UK.” Addressing the issue of facing up to health inequalities, Professor Majeed noted that this is linked to the economy and when the economy is doing well, housing, education and employment all flourish. “Economy is the key.”
Lord Lansley agreed that this was one of the reasons why the underlying responsibility for thinking about public health issues was deferred to local government, to allow councils to address the wider issues of the economy. He felt that: “One of the other benefits might be boosting population health management as a concept.”
In summing up the debate Lord Lansley concluded: “The sector needs to generate opportunities for collaboration – create a global market for our ideas and services and the same for research collaborations. We have a tremendous competitive advantage with 40% of European financial services market based in London. Future markets are digitally based, and we have the strongest in Europe and strongest creative industries. Two of the leading pharma companies are UK-based, with a large research-based cluster. The Life Sciences Sector will remain very strong in UK. The question is, what sort of relationship does EU want to have with us, when four out of five major Life Sciences Sector players will be based outside of the EU?”
The event ended by revisiting the original questions the panel posed to the audience. After listening to the views of the panel, the audience seemed more open to the idea that there were opportunities available to the sector, with the chance for a greater global outlook on scientific collaboration.
Speaking after the event, Michael Barker, the founding alumni member of the alumni–led Healthcare Professional Interest Network, said: “We tapped into something quite amazing. There is so little discussion about the specific impact, or opportunities, of Brexit on the UK’s Life Sciences Sector. By simply offering a forum to address this we had over 100 people register and attend our event. Our carefully selected panel of speakers then addressed the issues from multiple angles (policy, clinical and industry), followed by Q&A. The discussion resulted in two main outcomes. Firstly, a mostly positive ‘can do’ attitude amongst the audience, which continued well into the post-event networking reception. Next – and this was a welcomed but unexpected effect! – the forum offered a ‘talking therapy session’ and a chance to share frustrations, thoughts and opportunities with a diverse, yet like-minded group of people.”