Government urged to halt ‘drastic’ job cuts at medicines regulation agency

The Government is being urged to intervene to prevent job losses at the organisation that regulates medicines, medical devices and blood components for transfusion in the UK.

Unions said they were opposed to plans to cut at last 20% of staff at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which licenses Covid-19 vaccines in the UK.

The Public and Commercial Service union, Prospect, the FDA, University and College Union and Unite have written to Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid, saying: “In recent months ministers have rightly praised staff at the MHRA for the way in which they have responded to the pandemic.

“It was thanks to the dedication and hard work of our members that the vaccines were able to be approved swiftly and batch-released so that the vaccination drive could begin rapidly and with confidence, not to mention the approval of other medicines for the prevention and treatment of acute Covid-19 infection, testing kits and ventilators.”

The unions said the staff cuts are despite the increased workload of the agency because of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The letter asks the minister to meet with the unions and to intervene as part of next month’s spending review to provide the MHRA with the necessary short-term funding to enable a review of functions, structure and financial sustainability, without imposing “drastic” staffing cuts at the same time.

An MHRA spokesperson said: “We announced to our staff in February that we are transforming the way the Agency operates.

“This transformation is in response to four challenges: the UK exiting Europe (with a consequent reduction in the fee income we receive), our role in enabling the Life Sciences strategy, the recent Cumberlege review which recommended that we focus on patients in all our activities, and financial pressures.

“We will continue to be a world-class regulator that delivers the right outcomes for patients, while we modernise the services we provide to industry, and remain financially stable.

“We are also committed to helping play our part in driving forward the Government’s Life Sciences Vision and continue to engage with industry to help drive innovation.

“Our transformation will lead to a reduction in our workforce of around 20% which is approximately 300 roles.

“This reduction will take into account the different functions across the agency.

“We will be making savings in our operating costs, as well as redeploying and retraining our staff in new areas of regulation and science.

“We have had extensive discussions with concerned staff and unions, and a formal consultation process is under way, where we will continue to engage our staff.”

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