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An unhealthy Brexit

Peter Cook has some thoughts in aftermath of the chaotic week just passed and it’s all about health here.

Brexit has caused many of us to examine out values and motives and to that extent it is a good thing.  The week’s chaotic twists and turns in Government have increased the likelihood of a chaotic no deal Brexit, threatening food supplies, fuel and continuity of supply for medicines.  I have been working tirelessly to help Wendy Nowak, a diabetic who relies on insulin and other medication for her survival.  Wendy has spearheaded a campaign called “Who Cares About Brexit” to highlight the healthcare and medicine shortage problems that a No Deal Brexit will cause.  Sign Wendy’s petition at Who Cares.  People often ask why I care about Brexit, and here I offer some personal reflections.

Being happy and healthy 

Firstly, I am very lucky in so far that I don’t currently have any medical conditions so there is no self interest in my reason to set this project up … My self-interest goes right back to being 11 years old.  At the age of five, I wanted to be in The Beatles … sadly all the jobs were taken, even the drummer’s position.  I came from a poor background and my parents “let me be” as the last child of six … I was something of a surprise as my Mum was 45 and Dad 67 on arrival and she claimed I was a Virgin birth … My Mum had more or less guided the other children into safe and steady jobs such as the army and engineering, but I recall her saying later on that “I was different” … so I passed the 11 + exams and went to Gillingham Grammar School, where David Frost had attended.  I was far from the best student, but was encouraged to gravitate towards what I loved. That was science for the most part … especially Chemistry.  I used to read ahead of the subject and was bullied for being the best Chemistry student.  The old Chemistry teacher, a hoary old weasel from Yorkshire called Mr Harrison, when asking questions, would always say “Don’t tell ’em Cook” before letting the class attempt answers!

A very young Mr Cook!

I realised almost immediately that I wanted to be a scientist. Eventually I left the school at 18, having decided not to go to University and applied for two jobs and was accepted for both. I had a gruelling day long interview with Shell and later on a much more chaotic one at The Wellcome Foundation (they had forgotten I was coming). I accepted the latter, in part because one of the interviewers told me that the Wellcome club had the longest bar in Dartford, but mostly because I kind of liked the quaint ethos of a company that made a profit and used that money to heal the world.  I say to this day that Wellcome was perhaps the World’s only philanthropic pharmaceutical company …

Anyway, I was given the great privilege to develop groundbreaking treatments for diabetes, herpes and the first HIV / AIDS drug. My best school friend had contracted HIV whilst enjoying himself too much in California. Never before had I had a job that married my passions with a purpose. My choice, to get a job and follow up part time with three degrees, was, in hindsight, was a wise one.

We worked like Trojans and played in the same spirit. But always the work came before the play, an ethos which I have carried forward to this day, to the delight of my clients and the irritation of a few people through my razor-sharp focus and insistence on doing things properly … oh well …

When nostalgia is a dangerous thing

This leads me to my point. I do not intend to see our Government throw away all that advancement in science and innovation to take us back to the 1950’s, all for the sake of some romantic notions of getting a country back we never lost, a 50 pence souvenir and a blue passport. In 1800, our life expectancy in the UK was around 40 years. Advances in medicine have been a major contribution to our ability to live longer, healthier and happier lives, along with several other improvements in surgery, disinfection and nutrition etc. We mostly take these benefits for granted until they are lost.  In the words of Joni Mitchell:

“Don’t it always seem to go?

That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

The likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg may be able to say a few long words and quote Latin in the House of Commons to create a sense of deference with the masses, but Mogg et al have no clue about the science and technology. I also have Latin and Ancient Greek O’ Levels, so Mogg can exodus Brexodus …

People have no idea what we are throwing away and the consequences of doing so. UK Health Minister Matt Hancock recently said that he could not guarantee medicine supplies in the event of a No Deal Brexit. In a confusing series of messages Hancock has told pharma companies to stockpile drugs, then he told the patients to do it, after it became apparent that pharmacies did not have capacity. Recently he has told pharmacies not to stockpile or allow patients to do so, as it may create shortages. In some cases, drug stability and storage requirements make it impossible to enact these strategies in any case. In any case, patients with orphan conditions or on unlicensed medicines will find it very difficult to source their medication.  Please sign and share Wendy’s petition at Who Cares About Brexit.

At this point in time, Theresa May has indicated that there are three Brexit deals possible: Chequers + ; No Deal and Remain in the EU.  It becomes clearer and clearer that No Deal will be a catastrophe, Chequers is vastly inferior to what we already have and that the “will of the people” has changed towards Remaining. We now either need our politicians to grow a spine or for them to delegate that decision back to the people via a People’s Vote.

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