The House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee has given the health secretary, Matt Hancock, ten days to clarify whether access to medicines can be guaranteed after Brexit, should the UK leabe the EU without a deal in place.
In a letter to the health secretary, sent on 24 January 2019, the sub-committee requested “further information” on the government’s no-deal Brexit contingency planning.
The committee initially wote to Hancock about the contingency plans in November 2018, but the committee said in a statement accompanying its most recent letter that the government’s response on 10 January 2019 had “not alleviated all of the members’ concerns”.
A letter dated 10 January 2019, written by health minister Stephen Hammond, addressed 13 questions relating to contingency planning, including stating that the Department of Health and Social Care “is working very closely with the Department for Transport on how the prioritisation and rerouting of these vital [medicines and medical] products will work in practice”.
However, the committee’s latest letter requests details concerning information on the government’s plans to “contact suppliers of medicines and medical products to give them notice and guidance on rerouting their supplies”, as well as information on whether Public Health England is planning to stockpile vaccines and other products “for urgent public health use”.
The letter also reiterated calls for Hancock to disclose the cost of flying in medical products over a six-week period and provide a list of medicines that would be prioritised for air freight.
The UK government had written to NHS bodies and pharmaceutical companies on 7 December 2018, announcing a revision to the cross-government contingency planning assumption from six weeks to six months to reflect “significantly reduced access across the short straits” at Dover and Folkestone.
In this letter, the Department of Health and Social Care said medicines would be prioritised and transported through alternative routes, such as air freight.
Hammond had initially declined the committee’s request for the cost of using air freight owing to “commercial sensitivities”.
However, the committee has since said it does “not consider an estimate of this figure nor a list of medicines and medical products to have adverse commercial implications”.
It added: “Providing this information will assist the committee in understanding the impact of no-deal preparations and give assurances that the government is prioritising medicines effectively.”
The committee concluded the letter: “Given that we are now just nine weeks away from leaving the EU with the increasing possibility of doing so without a deal, and noting the delayed response to our previous letter, we expect a response within ten working days.”