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Significant gaps remain in UK’s no-deal Brexit prep, says NAO report

Medicine supply still under threat despite preparedness programme

Brexit

A no-deal Brexit could still threaten supplies of medicines to the NHS and care homes, despite the UK government’s preparedness programme, says a new report.

With just 34 days until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, the National Audit Office (NAO) says there is still a significant amount of work to do to avoid shortages of vital medicines, despite the “great deal of work” undertaken by the government and the pharma industry.

Among the concerns presented by the NAO is that the government has an incomplete picture of the stockpiling of six weeks’ worth of drugs and other medicinal products like gloves and syringes that are needed. As of 20 September, 72% of medicinal products had that amount of stock available.

However, supplies of goods other than medicines for social care providers “have not been similarly stockpiled”, and that could create problems for the home care sector as it also relies on non-medicine supplies that are not usually bought via the NHS.

Efforts to arrange additional freight capacity are well underway, but might not be ready for 31 October, in particular extra ferry capacity that the government has contracted to bring medicines into ports other than Dover.

Of the 12,300 medicines used in the UK, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) estimates that around 7,000 come from or via the EU, says the NAO.

Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) chief executive Mike Thompson told the BBC Today programme this morning that drugmakers have done everything that they can in terms of stockpiling medicines, but added “we’ve always said that stockpiling alone is not enough – we need to be able to replenish”.

He welcomed the confirmation by the government that medicines get top priority for the additional freight capacity, but said there is now “a need for companies to get the detail of how to access this capacity as soon as possible”.

Around a quarter of ABPI members have already moved away from the use of Dover to other ports, but the BBC says it has been reported that some – including Portsmouth – are far from ready.

Recognising that things can go wrong despite the best planning efforts, he also welcomed the government’s preparations to deploy a courier service that will fly in emergency supplies if needed.

The government’s reasonable worst case assumption is that the flow of goods over the Channel will be reduced by 40-60%, and it has said that it intends to have as much of the freight capacity for priority goods as possible in place by 31 October, and all of it by 30 November “at the latest”.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has been asked to procure 2,326 additional heavy goods vehicle spaces per week as part of the government-secured freight capacity, with 91% of that allocated to health and social care supplies.

The NAO report comes as speculation continues on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson will adhere to legislation passed by MPs that requires the government to ask for an extension to the Brexit deadline if a new withdrawal agreement cannot be reached.

In a comment from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), a spokesperson said "we want to reassure patients we are doing everything necessary to make sure they can access the medicines they need after Brexit on 31 October, whatever the circumstances.

"As the NAO recognises, the Department of Health and Social Care, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers have mounted an unprecedented response in preparing for Brexit, with substantial stockpiles of medicines, which are increasing by the day. Combined with other measures, including new transport routes coming online shortly, we can help ensure patients continue to receive the highest quality of care in the same way they do now.”

Article by
Phil Taylor

27th September 2019

From: Research

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