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Cutting jobs at the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency would “make a mockery” of prime minister Boris Johnson’s promise to turn the UK into a “science superpower”, the heads of five unions have said in a letter to the health secretary.

The regulator, which is in charge of approving treatments including coronavirus vaccines, has been hit by a decline in funding. Between 20 and 25 per cent of the MHRA’s 1,200 staff are thought to be at risk of losing their jobs.

The general secretaries of Prospect and four other unions said in a letter to health secretary Sajid Javid on Monday that there was a “danger that the quality of our regulatory decisions may suffer” as a result of the lay-offs.

Going through with the cuts would leave the UK facing long delays in approving new medicines and reduce the MHRA to “effectively rubber stamping EU regulatory decisions,” the letter continued.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said in a statement that “the only reason the UK is now able to return to a semblance of normality is because of the vaccination programme and the incredible work of staff at the MHRA”.

“The fact that just months later one in five of them are facing redundancy beggars belief,” he said.

In a statement last week, the MHRA said: “We announced to our staff in February that we are transforming the way the Agency operates.”

It added: “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.”

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