Why Brexit will damage medical research in the UK

13th July 2016

Prof Nutting Treating Cancer Patients Worldwide

This week the first report emerged of British researchers being discriminated against as a result of the Brexit vote (http://gu.com/p/4z8et/sbl).

While the evidence was anecdotal, it is clear that the vote to leave the European Union is already having an impact on medical research in the UK.

In the last 7-year round of EU funding for health research projects  (2006-2013), Britain was the biggest recipient of EU funding, according to the NHS Confederation.

This funding to the tune of 670 million Euros enabled many cutting-edge research projects to go ahead.

While Brexit is being negotiated over the next 2+ years,  the UK should of course still be able to receive grants under EU health research programmes such as Horizon 2020.

But I fear that the reality on the ground may be very different. Increasingly medical research is dependent on building peer networks with similar institutions across international borders. These very much depend on personal standing and reputation and are as much about building partnerships of mutual respect and trust as they are about academic and scientific qualities.

My concern is that an oncologist say in France or Italy may think twice now about having a British research centre involved in its study because they know this may present problems in securing the necessary funding. 

Similarly British researchers may find it more difficult to find institutions in Europe ready to join their projects because of doubts over meeting the criteria for funding.

To some extent in the UK medical research and the development of innovative new procedures and treatments are cushioned by the support of major charities such as Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.

But there is no doubt that the vote to leave EU has put a huge question mark over future joint studies with European institutions and this could have a significant impact in slowing the pace of research and denting Britain’s reputation as a centre of excellence for medical breakthroughs and advances – and ultimately it will be the patients who suffer.

While this uncertainty pervades I will be doing my best to strengthen my links with fellow oncologists in head and neck cancer in Europe and around the world  to reassure them that although the political climate has changed, academic and scientific standards remain as high as ever.

For more information about my work visit my CV page, or contact me here.


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