Case study: “Never show them how you make the radioactive isotopes”

By Nick Hoile

In January, the Prime Minister outlined her Brexit priorities at Lancaster House.  This now infamous speech set out a number of negotiating ‘red lines’ – perhaps the clearest being her promise to “bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Britain”.  The implications of this move promised to be profound, with the ECJ the supreme legal authority within the EU and associated programmes.

In recent weeks, the strength of Mrs May’s resolve to keep this promise has been fiercely tested by a campaign to keep the UK within Euratom, the European Atomic Community.  In the latest of our ‘making perfect sense of healthcare’ series, we take a look at how interested parties have ratcheted up pressure on the Government to change course on withdrawal from the Euratom treaty.

Act One: Light the fire

On Monday 10 July, the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) released a statement to relay its serious concern about continued access to affordable radioactive isotopes in post-Brexit, post-Euratom Britain.  The statement highlighted the potential impact of leaving Euratom on patients and the NHS – while making a clear call for Government clarity.

The story was widely covered in the print and broadcast media that afternoon and the next morning – placing a spotlight on the emerging split in the Conservative Party which had come to the surface over the weekend.

Act Two: Fuel the fire

On Thursday 13 July, just a few days after the RCR story reignited the issue in the public consciousness, the Government responded formally.  The response came by means of a position paper on nuclear materials and safeguarding issues.

The position paper was brief but unequivocal in its intention to withdraw from Euratom.  Far less clear was what relationship the UK wanted to have with the body moving forwards.  There were hints at “a close and effective relationship” – but nothing concrete.  Also missing was evidence of a formal impact assessment – a point jumped on by the media and Brexit opponents.

Act Three: Manage the fire

Since, the story has continued to rumble on.  New voices have joined the legal debate around what a compromise position looks like and only yesterday the House of Lords debated the issue at length.

Act four: The long burn?

All this activity begs the question: What can be learnt from the Euratom clashes of recent weeks?

Quite simply, the Euratom issue is a useful reminder that great attention can be brought to complicated issues if they are effectively communicated in terms the public can engage with.  The RCR helped to sustain an issue through effective connection to patient care, NHS funding and a lack of Government contingency planning.

Could the Government’s position change over time as a result?  The rumour mill is certainly hinting at that – but for now, it would appear that campaigners are preparing to keep sustained pressure on the Government over the coming months to ensure that cancer patients do not receive poorer outcomes as a result of Brexit.