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General Election roundtable sheds light on key issues for the Healthcare and Life Sciences sectors.

11 December 2019.

Last week RPC invited guests to a roundtable to debate the UK political parties' manifesto promises affecting the healthcare and life sciences sectors. Some policies attracted criticism whilst one party bucked the national trend to emerge a winner.

Not just Brexit 

In the early days of campaigning, this General Election was billed as the "Brexit Election": the pivotal moment to "Get Brexit Done"; or a chance to Revoke Article 50; or … just another staging post in the attempt to muddle through and find that elusive compromise. However, after six weeks of campaigning, a host of other issues have also been debated. They include policies affecting hospitals, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. 

We invited clients to debate the manifestos at a roundtable meeting. The outcome of the meeting does not reflect industry's views in any scientific way but, perhaps, suggests the issues that may inspire hope - or dread - on Friday morning when the results come in. 

What to look out for from Friday

The Conservative Party

 The biggest impact of a Conservative victory will be the drive to conclude Brexit and secure a deal with the EU by the end of 2020. Under a Conservative government, the UK may not remain aligned with EU regulations for much longer. 

Otherwise, the most eye-catching Conservative initiatives are for the "fastest ever" increase in the science budget, an NHS visa to fast-track filling some roles with workers from overseas and more investment in innovative treatments. During our roundtable, support for the Conservatives remained steady, although there was significant concern at the lack of clarity on whether the UK will diverge materially from the EU regulatory regime governing drugs and medical devices. 

The Labour Party

 Labour has tried to define this election by highlighting issues other than Brexit. Alongside a pledge to increase NHS budgets by 3.9% per year in real terms, the Labour party has set out radical policies to transform healthcare.

Labour wants to invest more in artificial intelligence, ensure NHS data is not exploited and progress the prescription of medicinal cannabis. However, one policy attracted significant scrutiny: the proposal to use the Patents Act to force pharmaceutical companies to accept 'fair' prices for their products, or else lose their exclusive rights over drug patents. Some at the roundtable expressed concern that this policy would stifle innovation, with companies withdrawing investment for R&D. By the end of the debate, support for the Labour party had dipped.

The Liberal Democrats 

The Liberal Democrats are leveraging their opposition to Brexit as a means of preventing US companies from gaining access to the NHS or the UK drug market. In addition, they would increase spending on R&D, support the tech sector through tax credits and seek to simplify the regulatory landscape. A Liberal Democrat government would remain in the EU, providing certainty over regulatory obligations.

At the roundtable, the Liberal Democrats initially polled in line with national opinion polls, but by the end had emerged as the party with the largest increase in support. 

The Others

Could we end up with a coalition, made up of Green, Brexit, SNP, Plaid Cymru or DUP members of parliament? Stranger things have happened. If one or more of the Green Party or nationalist parties end up in Government, then look out for policies on tackling addiction, preventative healthcare, innovation and digital health. The roundtable concurred that the Brexit Party has very little to say regarding healthcare and life sciences. 

What next? 

Our roundtable suggests that the most important issue after the election will be whether the next Government legislates for the UK to diverge from EU regulations. The Conservative party is leading in the opinion polls but despite six weeks of campaigning there is not much clarity over the direction a Conservative Government would take. It will take a lot of work to fill in the gaps on the way to getting Brexit done.