EMA, facing a Brexit-shaped hole, moves to add staff 

European Medicines Agency offices

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has put out a big tender for temporary workers. EMA’s call for extra staff comes as it is bracing itself for the likely loss of employees when it moves from its current home in London.

The EMA is offering close to £32 million ($42 million) to contract staffing agencies that can provide it with employees to fill a wide variety of positions. The size of the contract sets it apart from recent EMA tenders. And, while it is normal for the EMA to use temporary staff to plug holes, the agency has acknowledged the latest contracts will address a situation that is far from routine. 

“[We] will also be using the framework contract to make up short-term for some staff losses expected to occur in the course of [the] relocation,” a spokesperson for the EMA told the Financial Times. 

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The agency's survey of its staff’s relocation plans suggest it is likely to lose anywhere from to 19% to 94% of its employees when it leaves London. Exactly how many opt against following the agency to its new home will depend on which city wins a vote on the relocation. Staff are more open to moving themselves and their families to some cities than others.

Having put out the contract, the EMA will have a source of staff to draw on as its relocates. The tender covers staff grouped into six lots. The job descriptions described in these lots cover office staff, IT administrators, law, public relations and roles involved in the authorization of medicines. 

The EMA has set aside the largest slice of the tender—£8.8 million—for “scientific administrative staff … with experience in medicine development or authorization of medicines.” The loss of capacity in these areas could affect the agency’s ability to process drug approval applications, leading to delays in new medicines getting to patients.   

The tender is part of a growing wave of regulatory hiring activity that has spread across Europe since the U.K. voted for Brexit.The EMA is responsible for some of the earlier activity, albeit on a far smaller scale than the latest tender. The agency signed off on its most recent set of temporary worker tender contracts in June, awarding €4.5 million for employees grouped into three lots. The latest tender is worth about eight times as much and features twice as many lots of workers.

National agencies are scaling up their operations in parallel, in part to help the EMA with the shortfall of capacity that will arise if it severs ties to the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Spain, one of the countries in the running to host EMA, is currently hiring 40 people in a recruitment drive specifically designed to mitigate the fallout from Brexit.