MPs call on government to halt 'alarming' MHRA redundancies

Cuts could force staff to "cover more ground with fewer resources"
The MHRA is set to cut around 20% of its staff. Photo: GOV.UK

A group of MPs has backed a call to halt redundancies at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

Twenty eight MPs – the majority from the Labour Party – have signed in support of a parliamentary motion calling for the government to “intervene immediately” to protect jobs at the MHRA and ensure the regulator is “properly funded”.

Earlier this month, the MHRA confirmed plans to cut “approximately 300” jobs – around 20% of its overall headcount. The agency, which is responsible for approving Covid-19 vaccines as part of its routine work, had 1,182 permanent staff and 206 other workers last year.

Last week’s early day motion said the politicians acknowledged the “work and dedication of staff” and the agency’s “leading role in protecting and improving public health and supports innovations through research and development”.

The motion applauded the “tireless efforts of the staff during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure the swift approval and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, test kits and ventilators”, and said MPs were “alarmed” to learn of the proposed 20% cut in staff “despite a greatly increased workload as a result of the UK leaving the EU and the Covid-19 pandemic”.

They said they were “concerned that fewer staff will be asked to cover more ground with fewer resources”, particularly while under the pay freeze on public sector workers imposed at last year’s Budget.

They also raised concerns that a loss of expertise could lead to “poor and potentially unsafe decision-making in a highly specialised field”.

It ended with a call for the government “to intervene immediately to ensure jobs are retained and a properly funded MHRA can continue with its world-leading work in this field”.

The motion was sponsored by six MPs: former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, now an independent MP; the Labour MPs Diane Abbott, Kim Johnson, Grahame Morris and Apsana Begum; and SNP MP Chris Stephens.

A further 22 of their parliamentary colleagues – all from the Labour Party, apart from DUP member Jim Shannon – signed in support of the motion.

Unions have written to health secretary Sajid Javid calling for stopgap funding during a review of the regulator's operations, and warned redundancies on the proposed scale could lead to an "exodus of talent".

Asked for a response to the motion, an MHRA spokesperson repeated a statement previously given to CSW saying staff at the agency were told in February of plans to transform the way the organisation works.

The changes are down to four challenges: Brexit; financial pressures; the agency’s role in enabling the government’s Life Sciences Vision strategy; and the recent Cumberlege Review, which recommended the MHRA focus on patients in all its activities.

They said the agency would "continue to be a world-class regulator", and that staff reductions would "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," they said.

 “We have had extensive discussions with concerned staff and unions, and a formal consultation process is underway, where we will continue to engage our staff. We expect to conclude this consultation during the autumn period.”

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