Prime Minister Theresa May has unveiled the government’s desire for the UK to remain part of the European Medicines Agency following its departure from the European Union.

In a key speech on Brexit she revealed that the government will “explore with the EU the terms on which the UK could remain part of EU agencies such as those that are critical for the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries”.

This, she said, would mean “abiding by the rules of those agencies and making an appropriate financial contribution”.

The UK is also committed to “establishing a far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU”, that would facilitate the exchange of ideas and enable the UK to participate in key programmes alongside EU partners, the PM confirmed.

Healthcare and industry leaders welcomed the announcement.

“Every month, 45 million packs of medicines move from the UK to the EU – and 37 million come the other way. That is why the Prime Minister’s commitment to seek cooperation on medicines regulation would be the best outcome for patients, not just in the UK but across Europe,” said Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

“It’s now critical that both sides prioritise patient safety in phase two of the negotiations. Delivering close cooperation on the regulation of medicines is only one part of the challenge. Making sure the supply of medicines is uninterrupted is essential to ensure patients in the UK and EU can get the medicines they need from day one of Brexit.”

Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, said remaining part of the European Medicines Agency “is the best way to make sure patients have quick access to the drugs and treatments they need”.

“For the Alliance, the key in all this is to put patients first - both the UK Government and European Commission must make public health and patient safety a priority in the negotiations. Nothing less will do.”

The news came as the Association of British Healthcare Industries called for “sensible trading agreements” to be in place the moment the UK leaves the EU to protect patient access to healthcare technologies.

The call comes on the back of research by the group showing that of the £5 billion worth of health technology used in the NHS in 2016, £3.2billion came directly from the EU.

“Complex, international supply chains mean that products can move across a currently frictionless UK/EU border many times in their lifecycle, for sourcing, assembly, packaging and sterilisation. The impact of delays and disruption to this process could pose a significant risk to patients if not correctly managed,” the group warned.

The UK also exports around £2 billion of health technologies to the EU; the same delays and disruptions pose a threat to the health of patients throughout Europe, the ABHI noted.