Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth joined MP’s from all sides, as well as medical bodies and scientists rounding on the government for pulling out of the European nuclear body Euratom as part of its chaotic Brexit plans.
The Royal College of Radiologists today warned that ‘thousands’ of cancer patients face delays to their treatment as leaving Euratom ‘threatens supply of key cancer treatment material,’ as radioactive isotopes that decay quickly need to flow freely from Europe.
The Labour frontbencher wrote to his counterpart Jeremy Hunt for “urgent” clarification on “whether the Government will publish any legal advice which says that it is necessary to leave Euratom as part of Brexit” and “what consideration there has been to the impact to cancer patients.”
As nine Tory MP’s joined calls for Theresa May to reconsider, there were signs that the PM could be facing a humiliating defeat or yet another U-turn on this major part of her Brexit position as if even just seven of the Tory rebels vote with opposition parties, DUP MP’s would not be enough to secure her a majority.
“It’s increasingly clear that the government acted recklessly by giving up on membership of Euratom. As with so many aspects of the prime minister’s Brexit strategy, she has let ideological obsessions – in this case preventing any future role for the European court of justice – take priority over safeguarding jobs and the economy,” Shadow Brexit Minister Keir Starmer warned today, as presumably it is the fact that the European Court of Justice ultimately presides over disputes in the treaty that prompted Number 10 to opt to leave it.
Starmer joined science and industry figures who have warned for months that 78,000 UK jobs in the nuclear industry should not be put at risk. This weekend former Tory minister Ed Vaizey and Labour MP Rachel Reeves warned that the treaty was vital to protect the UK nuclear industry. Other figures from science and medicine voiced their concerns too.
Amongst the most annoying things about this particular cock-up is that government were told about this months ago, and didn't bloody listen https://t.co/PAPFsA0Q7I
— Brian Cox (@ProfBrianCox) July 10, 2017
And today’s Evening Standard edited by former Tory chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – a growing thorn in the Prime Minister’s side – carried a front page warning from the Royal College of Radiologists.
This needs sorting quickly. It's an absurd situation. pic.twitter.com/85m82LXyFf
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) July 10, 2017
In a rare political intervention Dr Nicola Strickland of The Royal College of Radiologists explained: “Any future restricted access has the potential to delay diagnosing and treating cancer in thousands of UK patients and to add more costs to an already cash-strapped NHS.”
According to the Evening Standard today, “Government insiders claim the decision to quit the agency was taken by No 10 without a full-scale consultation.”
Former Conservative minister Nicholas Boles said he regarded the issue as a “litmus test” as to whether Mrs May was willing to go for a “sensible Brexit” or an ideologically driven hard Brexit.
“If we cannot get this right, which seems so obvious, then it will raise questions about whether the Government has been pragmatic enough in other areas,” he said.
Tory MP Anna Soubry warned against “an absolutist approach” and said “staying in Euratom would be part of a responsible Brexit”. A rebellion by just seven Conservative MPs would be enough to wipe out the Prime Minister’s Commons majority, even with the DUP on side.
And in perhaps the most damning intervention, the actual Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings dubbed the government “MORONS” and called for an open rebellion against Theresa May and a “truck load of crap ideas foisted on us by shambolic 1st 9 months of the may govt.” In a series of blistering tweets Cummings who led the Leave Campaign and recently admitted that the Brexit course could be an “error“, and that the £350m a week claim was a lie that helped win the EU referendum, accused Theresa May of “unacceptable bullshit” and concluded that calls to start “a new party” are increasingly “tempting.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “The availability of medical radio-isotopes will not be impacted by the UK’s exit from Euratom. The UK supports Euratom and will want to see continuity of co-operation and standards. We remain absolutely committed to the highest standards of nuclear safety, safeguards and support for the industry.”
Labour’s Health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth today wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt “to ask for an urgent update about the possible impact for cancer patients of the Government’s decision to take Britain out of the European nuclear body Euratom.”
“The Royal College of Radiologists has today warned that ‘thousands’ of cancer patients face delays to their treatment as a direct result of the decision which threatens the supply of vital imported radioactive isotopes, widely used in scans and treatments.
“The UK imports most of our radioisotopes – from the EU and globally. If the UK was to lose access to those materials after Brexit then people affected by cancer could lose out.
About half a million scans are performed annually in Britain using imported radioisotopes and more than 10,000 patients across the UK have their cancers directly treated by these materials.
“The Institute of Government says that leaving Euratom risks breaking the time-sensitive supply chains which supply isotopes used in nuclear medicine. The UK does not have any reactors capable of producing these isotopes and because they decay rapidly – often within a matter of hours or days, so hospitals in the UK rely on a continuous supply from reactors in France, Belgium and the Netherlands…
“The NHS is already under huge pressure and struggling to cope in the face of underfunding by this Government. Demand for cancer services is rising and key targets have been missed in recent months. Clearly this additional threat to stable supply chains has the potential to make a difficult situation much worse.
“The uncertainty around the UK’s future involvement in the Euratom treaty is yet another example of this Government’s failure to ensure patients are prioritised during Brexit negotiations.”
— Labour Health (@LabourHealth) July 11, 2017
Last month we reported on a Freedom Of Information request by The Royal College of Nursing which discovered a 92 per cent drop in the number of EU citizens working as nurses after the Brexit vote.
According to figures obtained by the Health Service Journal the NHS could be about to face its worst nursing workforce crisis for 20 years.