Brexit update – January 2021

Published: January 18 2021
Last updated: September 28 2022

What’s happened?

As of 1 January 2021 the United Kingdom (UK) formally left the European Union (EU). In December 2020 an agreement (or deal) was reached that sets out the future trading relationship between the UK and EU.

The agreement between the UK and EU brings an end to the uncertainty of a potential no-deal Brexit. It provides a practical and legal basis for the future relationship and is particularly important in relation to trade.

It is important to note that despite a deal being agreed there will still be some changes. In particular, there are some changes to border and customs procedures now the UK has left the EU single market and the customs union. For medicines, these changes are for pharmaceutical companies and logistics companies involved with transporting medicines.

The latest government information for the health and care sector, including details of the deal, is available here.

What does this mean for people with epilepsy?

During the Brexit process we have focussed on the issues that matter most to people with epilepsy. This includes access to epilepsy medicines and accessing epilepsy health services in other EU countries (reciprocal healthcare). Below we touch on what the Brexit deal means in relation to these important issues.

Accessing epilepsy medicines

It is vital that people continue to collect prescriptions and take medication as normal. You should not change or stop taking your medicine without consulting a healthcare professional.

The latest information from the NHS about getting your medicines after 1 January 2021can be found here.

The deal that has been agreed and the plans put in place by the government and pharmaceutical companies both reduce the potential for disruption to the availability of epilepsy medicines.

Some of the plans that were put in place ahead of the Brexit deadline to ensure the continued supply of medicines include:

  • Alternative routes – the government has secured contracts with transport services to support pharmaceutical companies with getting medicines into the UK. They have also set up an Express Freight Service that can be used to bring medicines and medical products into the UK in the event of difficulties elsewhere.
  • Trader readiness – the government has been working with businesses to make sure as many as possible are ready for changes to border and customs procedures. Efforts have been made to encourage the use of alternative routes between the UK and the EU to minimise potential delays between Dover and Calais.
  • Stockpiling – the government has requested that pharmaceutical companies maintain a 6-week stockpile of medicines and medical devices in the UK. For those products that cannot be stockpiled in this way, work has been done to make sure alternative plans are in place to maintain supply.

These plans remain in place despite a deal having been agreed.

Accessing finished Bedrocan oils

We are aware of issues with accessing some specific cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs), namely finished Bedrocan oils, since January 1 2021.

This issue impacts an estimated 40 people in the UK who are currently prescribed these special products either privately or on the NHS. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, told the House of Commons last week that the government were seeking an “urgent legal fix”.

Epilepsy Action has been in close contact with some of those affected by these changes and have contacted the Department of Health and Social Care on this issue. We will keep people updated on this going forward.

You can read a recent news article on this issue here.

Reciprocal healthcare

Reciprocal healthcare means the ability for people to access health services in other countries and for those from other countries to access health services in the UK.

The deal agreed between the UK and EU means that UK citizens can continue to access emergency treatment and treatment for pre-existing health conditions when travelling in EU countries after January 1 2021. This also applies to EU citizens visiting the UK.

Current European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) will remain valid as long as they are in date. They can continue to be used when travelling in the EU.

In the future EHICs will be replaced by a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). These new GHICs will provide the same access as EHICs to health services in the EU.

For more information and to apply for a GHIC you can visit the official government site here.

For additional travel advice for people with epilepsy, visit our dedicated travel advice and information page here.

What next?

We will continue to monitor the impact of Brexit and keep people with epilepsy updated on the issues that matter most to you during 2021 and beyond.

We remain in contact with the Department of Health and Social Care ensuring the voices of people with epilepsy are heard as we enter into the next phase of the UK-EU relationship.

For free and impartial advice and information on epilepsy related issues you can call our Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 5050.