The Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI) has highlighted the importance of getting post-Brexit trading relationships right for UK patients as it revealed that the majority of imported health technologies used by the NHS come from the EU.

ABHI completed an in-depth study of HMRC’s database, ‘UK Trade Info’, and found that of the £5 billion worth of health technology used in the NHS in 2016, £3.2 billion came directly from the EU.

ABHI CEO Peter Ellingworth said: “The nature of supply chains for health-tech is such that even goods manufactured in the UK are often ultimately supplied to the NHS from distribution centres in the EU. It is vital, therefore, that we have sensible trading agreements in place the moment we leave the EU.”

Currently, international supply chains mean that medical technology products can move across a frictionless border between the UK and the EU many times in their lifecycle, for sourcing, assembly, packaging and sterilisation. ABHI believes that the impact of delays and disruption to this process could pose a significant risk to UK patients if not correctly managed.

Director of healthcare policy at ABHI Richard Devereaux-Phillips said: “Delays in getting goods across borders are obviously problematic; 20% of products used in procedures where they are the main part of the procedure—for example, a cardiac implant—are delivered next day from the EU, hence the amount of trade with the Netherlands and Belgium. If the UK becomes a difficult place to ship to, companies will de-prioritise the UK as a market so products won’t be available.”

The UK also exports around £2 billion of health technologies to the EU. Members of ABHI have identified this market as a major target for growth in 2018. Therefore the same potential delays and disruptions to product trading could pose a threat to the health of patients throughout Europe. However, ABHI claims that there would be a greater negative impact on UK patients based on the relative volume of trade.

The industry body is calling for all healthcare technology products to be exempt from any new customs, tariff or VAT arrangements. It also hopes they will be given pre-shipping clearance and fast track access across any new EU/UK borders.