No-deal Brexit 'Could Cause Months of Medicines Disruption'

Peter Russell

December 10, 2018

The Government said it was putting in place additional contingency plans to ensure the continued supply of medicines in the event of a 'no-deal' Brexit.

Updated advice from the Department of Health and Social Care warned there could be up to 6 months of reduced access and delays at Dover and Folkestone if the UK leaves the EU on March 29th 2019 without a deal.

The letter from Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State, emphasised that the warning of congestion and supply disruption was very much a "worst case scenario" but one that the Government had a responsibility to plan for.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) described the assessment as "stark" and called for more details.

In August, Mr Hancock said he had asked pharmaceutical companies who supplied NHS patients with medicines from, or via, the EU or EEA, to ensure they had a minimum of 6 weeks' additional supply in the UK, over and above their business-as-usual buffer stocks.

'Further Action Needed'

In his latest letter, Mr Hancock said that although government departments had been working on custom and control arrangements to ensure a continued flow of goods into the UK, it had become clear that the contingency plans needed to be supplemented by additional actions.

The Government was drawing up plans to prioritise imports of medicines and medical products through alternative roll-on, roll-off ports other than the short Channel crossings to Dover and Folkestone. It was also investigating using air transport for medicines with a short shelf life, such as medical radioisotopes.

Department of Health officials were also considering how to support manufacturers taking part in the contingency planning by funding additional capacity for the storage of medicines. Contract agreements were imminent, the DHSC said.

Stockpiling More Medicines 'Not a Solution'

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the ABPI commented: "Pharmaceutical companies continue to do everything in their power to make sure that patients get access to medicines whatever the Brexit scenario. This includes duplicating processes, changing supply routes and stockpiling medicines in line with the Government’s guidance. However, we have been clear that there are things which are out of our control.

"Today’s update on potential border delays for 6 months in a no-deal scenario is stark. Stockpiling more medicines is not the solution to this problem.

"We welcome the Secretary of State's intention to prioritise the flow of medicines and vaccines. But with just 16 weeks until the UK leaves the EU, we need the detail.

"The Government should take immediate action to open up alternative supply routes between the UK and Europe and tell companies so that they can make plans."
 

Running Out of Time: BMA

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the Government's update suggested it was beginning to take seriously the risk to healthcare posed by a no-deal Brexit. Dr Richard Vautrey, GP committee chair, said: "The difference between 6 weeks of disruption and 6 months of chaos on the borders is clearly huge and the scale of action now required to ensure the safety of patients is eminently much bigger.

"That these plans are still only in the development stage with 4 months to go is extremely concerning and the lack of detail in these proposals will offer little in the way of reassurance to doctors and patients alike.

"The BMA has been clear how catastrophic Brexit could be for patients, the NHS workforce and the health of Britain and Europe, which is why it is imperative that the public is given a final say on the deal."

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