Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), was unable to reassure MPs that UK patients would still get the essential medicines they need if there is a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking at a committee hearing on 17 October 2018, Wormald was pressed for an answer by Hilary Benn, Labour Party MP and chair of the House of Commons’ Exiting the EU select committee.
Benn asked the secretary: “Are you confident that the supply of medicines, essential medicines, will be maintained in the event of [a no-deal Brexit]?”
Wormald responded: “In a business as complex as health we don’t issue assurances and guarantees — nobody can.”
He added that maintaining the UK medicines supply chain was one of three key issues keeping him awake at night — the other two being the impact on the workforce and reciprocal health care arrangements.
Wormald said that health had not been a huge area of contention in negotiations with the EU, unlike other areas. “Most of the issues are practical ones.”
He also reiterated that the DHSC was working with the pharmaceutical industry to create a “buffer stock” of medicines in the short term in case supplies are disrupted at the border.
He said he was pleased with the response by the industry but that it was impossible to prepare for every eventuality as medicines are a complex system. “There is only so much you can do in advance. Nobody can really predict exactly what will happen. There are decisions that we will have to make along the way.
“We are confident that we have put in place all the correct mitigations but in an incredibly complex supply chain it remains very challenging. It is quite challenging in normal circumstances — there are always medicines we are worried about at any given time.”