#EAPM – Oh, brother! UK science minister Jo Johnson quits, as his sibling struggles

| September 6, 2019

Greetings! Of late, it’s been very difficult to write an EAPM update without referring at some point to Brexit. So we won’t stop now…. As most of you may now know, the pro-Remain brother of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that he won’t stand at the next general election – although the word is that he’s not resigning straight away, thus avoiding the need for a by-election, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Jo Johnson was science and education minister and, in a tweet, said hes been torn between family loyalty and the national interest its an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP and minister”.

Scientists for the EU tweeted in response: “You were an excellent Minister of State for Universities and Science. You will be missed by the UK science community a community that you understand well. We, in turn, understand this choice you made. You did the right thing.

With Jo apparently not resigning as an MP straight away, this throws up the intriguing prospect of him being able to vote against his brother. Well, what’s the worst that can happen? He loses the Tory whip, he’s de-selected (he’s not standing anyway) and he may end up off the Downing Street Christmas card list.

The timing is quite incredible, and surely doesn’t help the prime minister. However, there’s still all to play for with the result, as ever, unpredictable.

What can be confidently predicted, though, is that a general election will be in the offing, certainly this year. All to play for…

Meanwhile, the Leader of the House of Commons,pro-Brexit Jacob Rees-Mogg caused ructions in Westminster when, under Parliamentary privilege, he called neurologist David Nicholl, who wrote the Yellow hammer Brexitimpact report for medicine supplies, as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield”.

Andrew Wakefield is the discredited author of a notorious study wrongly linking the MMR jab to autism.

In response Chaand Nagpaul, who is chair of the British Medical Association council, said the comments were “utterly disgraceful and totally irresponsible”.

Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies meanwhile tweeted that she’d written to Rees-Mogg to express her sincere disappointment” in his disrespectful” comments, which went “too far” and were frankly unacceptable”.

For his part, Nicholl said: “I challenge [Rees-Mogg] to repeat outside the chamber the allegation that I am comparable to Andrew Wakefield – lets see what happens.” 

Finally on Brexit for this ‘edition’, Lithuanias new president, Gitanas Nausėda has said: “We try to make it an opportunity.” 

We are one of the most friendly countries to fintech companies,” Nausėda said, adding: “Weve got about 150 companies from the UK and USI can say it really works.

 He went on to say that: “Brexit with an agreement is the best solution. But the no-deal scenario looks quite realistic too.”

Shock EU ‘death’ figures   

In a new survey, Eurostat tells us that, among people under 75, two-out-ofthree deaths in the European Union could have been avoided in 2016. 

It explains that 1.2 million from 1.7 million deaths could have been avoided. Many (741,000) through effective public health and primary interventions, and 422,000 deaths through timely and effective health-care interventions.

Such public health interventions ahead of heart and lung disease, as well as stroke, accounted for most of the avoidable deaths. More emphasis on prevention, anyone?

The ENVI of us all 

The European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) is back at work and has quickly proposed to carry out an in-depth review of the safety of vaccines. 

The Petitions Committee heard six similar petitions from Italy, all of which opposed the compulsory vaccination of children up to the age of 16.

One petitioner, Roberto Ionta, who is a prominent anti-vaccine campaigner, told the committee that Italian children are being discriminated against” because they are excluded from school if they have not been vaccinated. 

However, UK MEP Jude Kirton-Darling was against giving the anti-vaccination lobby too much time in the committee, saying: “I think theres a grave danger that we feed and continue to feed a campaign of misinformation, which is actually putting all of our children at risk across the entire world.”

Its seems likely that the proposed study will land on the desk of the European Medicines Agency down the line.

Meanwhile, the committee discussed the EU Court of Auditors’ review of the bloc’s cross-border health-care efforts, which soon switched to medicines shortages, with French MEP Michèle Rivasi propounding the theory that some Europeans are engaging in cross-border travel to get medicines that are in short supply in their own country. 

EAPM’s good friend Romania’s Cristian-Silviu Bușoi tied this in with crossing borders for orphan drugs. The Commission representative present, DG SANTE’s Ioana-Maria Gligor, reminded the MEP that the review of the EUs orphan incentives is due later this year.

Peter Welch, directorof the ECA, explained that national contact points could give better information on rare diseases. The ECA’s recommendation is that the Commission should do more to support these, he added.

On cross-border exchange of health data, he said that the Commission has not achieved what it wanted, and that more member states are ready to receive data than are equipped to actually send it. 

German MEP Tiemo Wölken (more of whom below) said that it is clear that goals are not being achieved, while Poland’s Sylwia Spurek quoted Eurostat figures on the small percentage of patients that takeadvantage of the cross-border health-care directive. The current system effectively discourages EU citizens getting health care in another state, she said.

Another EAPM champion, Malta’s Miriam Dalli said only a small amount of patients know their rights, and that action needs to be taken on an EU-wide basis. Miriam mentioned delays in information exchange and data exchange and asked how this can be addressed. The financing mechanism needs to be simpler, she said.

Meanwhile, on HTA, which rumbles on in Brexit-esque fashion, ENVI confirmed that the aforementioned Tiemo Wölken will be rapporteur for the health technology assessment brief.

Congratulations, Tiemo!

Incidentally, ENVI is now Parliaments biggest panel, with 76 members. This is up from 64 in 2009 and 69 in 2014. Let’s hope that size does matter…

Health in brief

Sweden has said it will host an international high-level conference on antibiotic resistance monitoringand the World Health Organization Global Resistance Monitoring System. 

Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said: “It is important that Sweden drives the issue forward internationallyby promoting enhanced surveillance.”

And in Germany, several top doctors’ groups have co-sent an open letter to Stern magazine warning that economics are overriding patients’ needs under the current accounting systems for hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Part of the letter reads: “It is negligent to leave hospitals and thus the fate of patients to the laws of the free market,” adding that patientswell-being should be the most important goal.

At the same time, the authors urged the government to abandon fixed-rate payments per patient because it would offer many incentives to generate returns on unnecessary action to the detriment of patients”. 

And finally…

It was revealed this week that scientists have found the first genetic instructions in human DNA that link to being left-handed.

The University of Oxford team say that left-handed people may have better verbal skills because the DNA instructions seem to be involved in the structure and function of the brain.

Roughly one-in-10 people are left-handed. For the record, Boris Johnson isn’t. 

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