The government has been asked to publish its contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit following an admission from health and social care secretary Matt Hancock that his department is drawing up plans to stockpile drugs.
Hancock told a meeting of the House of Commons health select committee on 24 July 2018 that he had asked civil servants to “accelerate” plans to deal with the consequences of the UK leaving the EU in 2019 with no agreement in place.
Hancock told the committee he had met with senior pharmaceutical industry figures to discuss it and that work was going on “right across government” to ensure that “peoples’ health will be safeguarded in the event of a no-deal Brexit”.
“This includes the chain of medical supplies, vaccines, medical devices, clinical consumables [and] blood products,” he said.
“And I’ve asked the department to work up options for stockpiling by industry and we are working with industry to prepare for the potential need for stockpiling in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”
When asked how many months’ worth of drugs would be stockpiled, Hancock said that level of detail had yet to be finalised. He also said there was a need to “get the balance right” between patients accessing the drugs they need and the “cost implication”.
Hancock said the government’s focus would be on ensuring a continuous supply of medicines that have a short shelf life, adding that some drugs could be flown in if there was gridlock at UK ports after a no-deal Brexit.
The pharmaceutical industry would be responsible for the stockpiling, with government input, he said.
Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, which includes the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the NHS Confederation and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry among its members, said the government must now reveal all contingency plans that are being drawn up.
“Ministers are right to plan for the worst while doing everything to make sure the worst does not happen, but now is the time to start spreading the word about the scale and nature of the challenge and to enable NHS trusts and others to prepare,” he said.
“We may be able to accept delays for some goods crossing borders, but that is simply not acceptable for medicines and other materials on which patients rely every day.”