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European healthcare community calls for maximising research collaboration across Europe

Kate Ling, Senior European Policy Manager, NHS Confederation, European Office

An area that has sometimes been overlooked in the ongoing discussions on implementation of the Trade and Co-operation agreement (TCA) between the UK and the EU is that of continuing cross-border cooperation in research and innovation.

One element of the TCA that was extremely welcome on both sides of the UK/EU border was the agreement in principle for the UK to associate to the EU’s flagship Horizon Europe research programme. Association will enable British scientists and their EU partners to continue to work together across borders on clinical trials, for the mutual benefit of UK and EU patients. This programme will be worth €95.5 billion (£84.1 billion) of research funding between 2021 and 2027. The UK and EU have yet to formalise the details, but UK entities are eligible to apply for funding from the start of the programme and there has been a good response to the first calls for healthcare projects.

The delay in finalising the association agreement results from the ongoing UK/EU discord over the Northern Ireland protocol, with the threat that the association agreement could be withdrawn. This would be a bitter blow to project partners and would ultimately impact healthcare professionals and patients.

Medical research is an intrinsically collaborative activity that enables major strides in lifesaving and life-enhancing therapies for patients, no matter their nationality or country of residence. The European health stakeholder group of pan-EU healthcare organisations, consisting of a wide range of member organisations such as patient groups, medical research charities, academies of medicine, associations of professional bodies, and industry (pharma/med tech/life sciences), fresh from successfully campaigning for a UK/EU data adequacy agreement , is currently lobbying for the UK to participate in Horizon Europe funded research programmes. The group issued a statement in early December calling on the EU and UK to prioritise the interests of citizens and the medical research on which they and their healthcare systems rely. We hope that by the time you read this newsletter this campaign will have borne fruit!