How will the general election affect life sciences?

With the UK general election on the horizon, what are the implications for medtech and life sciences?

Brexit was covered in depth during a Healthcare Disparities event I attended in Manchester earlier this year. Though the supply of devices and medicines should be unaffected beyond 31 January 2020, there is the question of what happens if the government fails to negotiate a trade deal in time for the end of next year? What happens to cross-border contracts in that event?

Labour has said it would renegotiate a deal and put it to another referendum, its Brexit is more likely to be softer – meaning less custom hassle with the aim of a minimum disruption to the supply chain. There has often been repeated lines from Labour leadership of a ‘customs union’ meaning the supply of medical devices and medicines would have minimal disruption. Think of it more like the Norwegian European Economic Area model if you want a direct comparison.

The Liberal Democrats’ pledge to stop Brexit would mean no change – you don’t need me to explain the supply chain consequences – see other publications for a political explanation depending on your persuasion.

Prior to the dissolution of parliament, the government proposed legislation in the Queen’s Speech – the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill – aiming to “ensure that the UK remains at the global life sciences industry after Brexit,” and allowing the MHRA to develop “innovative regulation to enable early access to technology”.

If the Conservatives do form a majority following 12th December’s poll, it would be interesting to see whether this is brought before the House of Commons again, and whether there are any alterations given the likely change of the Parliamentary arithmetic.


There are many aspects to cover here. Labour believes it is fertile territory. It founded the NHS under Clement Attlee and the party feels it is the natural guardians of the institution, repeatedly warning of a sell-off if the Conservatives were to win the election and negotiate a trade deal with the United States. Jeremy Corbyn held a press conference unveiling documents from the Department of International Trade claiming that the health service was on the table for a sell-off in any trade talks.

What does the wider market feel about the election?

Though that claim has been heavily disputed, and likely will be until polling day, there are certain takeaways which could leave certain grounds for uncertainty going forward.

One interesting point to note in the digital health aspect of the manifestos is the Conservatives are offering vaccine text messaging reminders, in a bid to stop the declining rates of some immunisations. This ties in both a pressing issue surrounding a fall in child vaccinations, and Matt Hancock’s desire to make the NHS paperless.

Global Medical Nomenclature Agency CEO Mark Wasmuth told GlobalData: “The Conservative ‘Get Brexit Done & Unleash Britain’s Potential’ manifesto sounds positive, but medical was only mentioned in relation to doctors’ pensions! Support for the NHS is prominent, especially mobile screening, healthy living and more cycling.

“The Liberal Democrats certainly have a bright cover for their ‘Stop Brexit & Build a Brighter Future’ manifesto. A bit light on ‘medical devices’, medical was only mentioned in regulated access to cannabis and gender reassignment. Healthcare gets a big mention, but maybe the Liberal Democrats don’t know where innovation and change comes from?

“Labour’s ‘It’s time for Real Change’ manifesto looks like they have talked to someone in the industry and committed to ‘invest more in…state-of-the-art medical equipment’ and ‘will play an active role in the medical innovation model, ensuring rewards and incentives match the areas of greatest health need’. NHS and healthcare gets good coverage too.”

Wasmuth described the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos as having a ‘two out of ten’ benefit to the NHS, while he gave the Labour manifesto a score of six.

The US wish for an extension to patent lengths surrounding certain drugs could mean an increase in pharmaceutical pricing. Given that funding of the NHS if often a political football, this would certainly feed into it – and did during an interview between Andrew Neil and Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner, with the Labour frontbencher accusing the BBC journalist of being “ridiculous and naïve” when trying to separate the issue of drug pricing for pharmaceutical companies and the impact private companies can have on the health service.

There is also the question of regulation. Labour seems to want close regulatory alignment with the EU, while if the Conservatives agree a deal with the United States – regulation surrounding data protection and medical devices could be on the table – GDPR might not be something the United States is a fan of. While the UK is going to adopt and MDR standard that comes into force in May, there is the question of what happens further down the line? That might be for another election.

This could add to unease already expressed by NHS workers about big tech companies having access to patient data – as covered by a recent YouGov survey which found that 17% of staff said they would trust multinational ‘big tech’ companies to handle the data in a confidential manner.

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