Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has written to health and care providers to update them on the Government’s preparations for a potential no-deal Brexit.

The letter contains an update on what the health and care system needs to consider in the period leading up to March 2019. It includes plans relating to the continued supply of medicines and vaccines; medical devices and clinical consumables; blood and other products of human origin; and non-clinical consumables, goods and services.

Back in August, the Government asked drug companies to create stockpiles in the UK with six weeks worth of supplies, which has largely been achieved although there has not been so much progress with medical devices.

The letter stressed that, even though the planning assumption has been revised, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will continue to develop a UK-wide contingency plan with pharmaceutical companies, and restated the message that UK health and social care providers, including hospitals, care homes, GPs and community pharmacies, should not stockpile additional medicines beyond their business as usual stock levels. It said: “There is also no need for clinicians to write longer NHS prescriptions. Local stockpiling by UK health and social care providers is unnecessary and could cause shortages in other areas, which would put patient care at risk.”

The DHSC and the NHS will implement monitoring mechanisms to ensure Trusts are not stockpiling locally. NHS organisations should continue to manage shortage issues through existing communication channels.

The letter also contained information on the health and care workforce, research and clinical trials, and business continuity plans.

Pharmaceutical chiefs have argued that the Government could do more to ensure continuity of supply, and that ministers should give more detail of plans to fast-track lorries through ports. Approximately 90% of medicines imported by the UK and the Republic of Ireland come in through Dover.

Matt Hancock said the “worst-case planning assumption” meant that “while the six-week stockpiling activities remain a critical part of our contingency plans, this now needs to be supplemented with additional actions”.

He said the NHS should prepare to use alternative routes in the event of disruption on cross-channel routes, including the use of planes to fly in supplies. He added that if France or other EU countries imposed additional border checks in a no-deal scenario, the impact was “likely to be felt mostly on the short straits crossings into Dover and Folkestone” affecting both exports and imports, with “significantly reduced access” for up to six months.

He continued: “This is very much a worst-case scenario. In a no-deal exit from the EU we would, of course, be pressing member states hard to introduce pragmatic arrangements to ensure the continued full flow of goods which would be to their benefit as well as ours.”

The letter is available here.

Last reviewed 11 December 2018