The National Audit Office (NAO) has highlighted "significant" gaps in Government planning for a no-deal Brexit outcome for the UK to reduce risk to the NHS and the social care sector.

Despite praising the Government for the "enormous amount of work" that had been done, the NAO report found there were still "significant" gaps, including a lack of clear evidence that the social care sector was ready, raising concerns that it had not received enough Government support. Before 31 October, it said, there remains a significant amount to do to ensure that social care providers such as nursing homes are fully prepared.

NAO findings include the possibility that extra shipping capacity, which the Government is buying to bring medicines into ports other than Dover, may not be completely ready by 31 October.

Examining the Government’s plans for supplying the health and social care sectors in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the report confirmed that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had set up a "medicine shortage response group" and strengthened its communication routes to general practices and community pharmacists.

The report acknowledges the work that has been done in terms of organising the supply of medicines for both the NHS and care sectors, including stockpiling six weeks' supply of drugs and arranging for emergency supplies to be fast-tracked in, although it is still not known exactly what level of stockpiling is in place. It said the Government has estimated that 100 medicines are likely to be short supply at any given time and that it has expanded its team to manage this, recruiting additional pharmacist advisors.

However, the NAO pointed out that the social care sector, which relies on 24,000 companies to provide services, has no central arrangement for stockpiling equipment and supplies such as syringes and needles, most of which come from or via the EU.

Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Hillier said the report was "deeply concerning" due to many examples of deadlines missed and government failings. She added: "The DHSC still doesn’t know whether all stockpiles are in place, it has no idea whether social care providers are ready and it is still not certain whether all the freight capacity government needs will be in place on time. If government gets this wrong, it could have the gravest of consequences."

NHS Confederation Director of International Relations Dr Layla McCay agreed that the planning had been detailed but the situation was still concerning, and warned it was the "unknowns and unknowables" that perhaps presented the biggest risk.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "We want to reassure patients we are doing everything we can." He said industry and the Government had "mounted an unprecedented response in preparing for Brexit" with stockpiles "increasing by the day".

More information about the report is available at: www.nao.org.uk

Last reviewed 1 October 2019