28 Sep 2017   |   News

EMA warning that Brexit relocation puts the future of public health in Europe at stake

Only 5 of 19 cities bidding to host the European Medicines Agency would attract enough current employees for operations to continue as normal. Moving to one of the 8 least popular cities risks permanent damage, the agency warns

EMA has made the results of its most recent staff retention survey available, raising serious concerns about business continuity when the agency is forced to relocate from London.

The EMA said it has timed publication to complement the European Commission’s assessment of the 19 bids to be new host for agency, which is due to be published at the end of the month.

The survey was launched on 4 September 2017 in the context of EMA’s business continuity planning, after all candidate host cities were known and EMA staff had the opportunity to study in detail.

The results underline the importance of the upcoming decision because the retention of as many as possible of its 890 skilled and experienced staff is crucial for the continuity of EMA’s operations.

The survey indicates that for certain locations staff retention rates could be significantly less than 30 per cent. The EMA says that would mean it is no longer able to function and, as there is no backup, this would have important consequences for public health in the EU.

In the most favoured location EMA could retain up to 81 per cent of its workforce.

Four groups of candidate cities emerged in the survey. The first cluster includes those cities where 65 per cent or more of EMA staff indicated they would move. In the second cluster are cities where staff retention would range between 50 and 64 per cent. The third cluster (of one city) would be attractive for between 30 and 49 per cent of staff. In the last and largest cluster of eight cities, all would attract fewer than 30 per cent of EMA staff.

In order to prepare for its relocation, EMA has been working on a business continuity plan aimed at ensuring that the assessment of drugs is not disrupted and that patients in Europe continue to have access to high quality, safe and effective medicines.

Since November 2016, the agency has carried out several staff surveys to help prepare for staff losses and to improve planning for succession and knowledge transfer.

The EMA estimates that it can carry on operating more or less as usual if it retains 65 per cent of staff, though it will take from 2 – 3 years to be fully back up to speed following the move.

Below that critical threshold the agency says it will no longer be able to fulfil its mandate to protect the health of European citizens.

Following publication of the Commission’s assessment of the bids, there will be a political discussion, then on 20 November the European Council will vote on the new location.

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