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NHS bracing for 'no deal’ Brexit impact, including medicines

Simon Stevens says plans well advanced for shock to supply chain

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The National Health Service is working hard to prepare for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, and that includes securing supplies of medicines and equipment.

There is now “significant planning” going on around all the potential scenarios when negotiations between the UK and EU come to a head in the autumn, said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday.

Safeguarding medical supplies is the top priority, he said, adding that there is “extensive work” underway between the NHS, government, the pharma industry to prepare for ‘no deal’.

“No one is pretending thus is a desirable situation, but if that’s where we get to it will not have been unforeseen,” said Stevens. On the subject of the 60,000 EU nationals working within the NHS, he said that hospitals have been asked to encourage them to apply for leave to remain in the UK post-Brexit. At the same time, strenuous efforts are being taken to train and recruit ‘home-grown’ doctors and nurses.

The comments with just weeks of negotiation with the EU to go, and serious sticking points still to be solved such as the Irish border and the UK’s future relationship – if any – with the single market and customs union.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled to hold a meeting at Chequers on Friday to thrash out a third customs model after two prior attempts caused fractures in the Cabinet. May said a new white paper will be published after the meeting to set out “in more detail what strong partnership the UK wants to see with the EU” in the wake of the country’s departure from the bloc on 29 March 2019.

After several years of belt-tightening, the government has started to reverse the trend in NHS funding pledging £20bn in additional funding by 2024, although critics point out that the cash is barely above what the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) was needed to keep the service treading water.

Last week, to mark the NHS’ 70th anniversary, thousands of protestors took to the streets of London to protest what they maintain is chronic NHS underfunding and privatisation by stealth – on the same day that the government announced that a raft of non-urgent surgical procedures including carpal tunnel release and hysterectomies for excessive menstrual bleeding would no longer be covered.

Stevens’ comments on the NHS preparations for a Brexit ‘no deal’ scenario prompted a swift response from the Brexit Health Alliance  – a lobby group bringing together NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health organisations.

"Much of what the NHS does is on a ‘just in time’ basis and the service cannot afford to wander into a situation where supplies simply stop or dry up,” said the Alliance’s co-chair Niall Dickson.

“The reality is that medicines, medical supplies and devices are all part of a highly interdependent system – it would be wrong to cause unnecessary anxiety or alarm among patients, but we do need to make plans now to make sure that whatever happens next year patients in the UK and indeed in the rest of Europe can be guaranteed supplies of the medicines and materials they need.”

He went on to say that “should be the highest priority for the UK government and the European Commission – this is too important to be a bargaining chip  in the negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Stevens also pointed out in the interview that the NHS is very reliant on the overall state of the British economy, and of course arguments abound on the impact of Brexit on that.

According to a Deloitte survey, 75% of British companies are now pessimistic about Brexit after weak investment and waning revenues in the most recent financial quarter. The poll also found that more large UK companies are adopting defensive financial strategies because of Brexit-related uncertainty, and follows announcements by Airbus and Siemens that their UK investments could be at risk if the country leaves without a deal.

Article by
Phil Taylor

2nd July 2018

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