MHRA cuts could affect UK regulatory decisions, say unions

A 20% to 25% reduction in staffing at the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) risks undermining the ability of the authority to fulfil its role, according to trade unions.

In an open letter to health secretary Sajid Javid, Prospect, Unite and three other unions say the decision to slash the MHRA’s current 1,200 workforce by up to 300 workers means that “regulatory decisions may suffer”.

Fewer staff will therefore be asked to cover more ground with fewer resources, all while operating under a pay freeze, they claim.

The UK could end up facing “either long delays in approving new medicines or that the MHRA will be reduced to effectively ‘rubber stamping’ EU regulatory decisions”, according to the unions.

They also say the regulator is facing the double whammy of an increase in workload after Brexit and a reduction in revenue from its earlier work on reviewing medical products for EU member states, and that the UK government is failing “to replace this funding or introduce a sustainable financial model”.

The MHRA said earlier this year that it would be “transforming” the way it operates, with discussions involving unions ongoing and a formal consultation process due to be concluded in the late autumn. The job losses will affect different functions across the MHRA.

“This transformation is in response to four challenges: the UK exiting Europe (with a consequent reduction in the fee income we receive); our role in enabling the Life Sciences strategy; the recent Cumberlege review which recommended that we focus on patients in all our activities; and financial pressures,” said a spokesperson.

“We will continue to be a world-class regulator that delivers the right outcomes for patients, while we modernise the services we provide to industry, and remain financially stable.”

The letter argues however that any change must be evidence-based, and not simply led by financial considerations.

“Recent months have taught us the value of having a world class medical regulator that is able to respond quickly to emerging health challenges,” said Prospect general secretary Mark Clancy.

“It would be reckless to put this at risk by imposing such severe staffing cuts on the organisation.”

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