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Stockpiling medicine edges closer to reality in the midst of Brexit

Vaccines and blood products could be stockpiled ahead of a possible ‘no-deal’ Brexit, the health and social care secretary has confirmed.

The Government is working with the health sector and pharmaceutical industry on how best to prepare the health service in the event of the UK leaving the EU next March with no deal in place – and stockpiling is one of the options being reviewed.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said that, while he was confident a deal would be reached in time, efforts needed to be stepped up to ‘mitigate the worst of the circumstances’.

And, speaking before the Parliamentary health and social care committee, on Wednesday, Mr Hancock added that, since taking over as health secretary, he had requested that work on these preparations be accelerated.

He said: ‘We are working right across government to ensure the health sector and industry are prepared, and that people’s health will be safe-guarded in the event of a no-deal Brexit

‘This includes the chain of medical supplies [such as] vaccines, medical devices, clinical consumables, blood products, and I have asked the department to work up options for stockpiling by industry … we are working with industry to prepare for the potential need for stockpiling in the event of a no-deal Brexit.’

 

Pressed on preparations

The admission that stockpiling was being considered came after Mr Hancock was questioned by the committee as to what the implications of a hard or no-deal Brexit would be for the NHS and its patients.

The BMA’s Brexit briefing on medicines and medical device regulation warns that failure to agree a withdrawal agreement by March 2019, would lead to considerable uncertainty around the regulation of drugs and medical devices.

The association warns that such uncertainty could ultimately have ‘significant ramifications’ on the UK’s ability to access new treatments in a timely fashion.

Mr Hancock said that emphasis was being given to those treatments with short shelf lives and raised the possibility of such medicines being flown into the UK in the event of gridlock at sea ports.

He said: ‘We need to make sure that we get the balance right between being prepared for all eventualities and making sure that people are going to be able to access all the drugs that they need. Obviously, there is a cost implication of doing this.

‘I hope that even under a no-deal scenario there will still be smooth movement in through ports … but you can imagine that it’s terribly important for me as secretary of state that people will have access to the medicines that they will need.

‘It is vital that we get the preparations right, but I’m also confident that with the right amount of work that we can mitigate the worst of the circumstances.’

 

Reservations realised

Speaking on the BBC on 1 July, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said steps to protect the continued supply of medicine were being made.

He said: ‘There is now significant planning going on around all the scenarios… which the health department, with other parts of the Government, are undertaking, around securing medicine supply and equipment under different scenarios.

‘That will obviously crystallise, when it’s clear later this autumn, what the UK’s position will be [but] there’s extensive work under way now between the DHSC and other parts of the Government, the life-sciences industry and pharmaceutical companies.’

The BMA changed its stance on Brexit at its annual representative meeting in June. In a statement it said: ‘While we acknowledge there has been some progress in the negotiations, the challenges and the risks to the NHS posed by Brexit remain considerable. As raised in our Brexit briefings, there is too much uncertainty around the implications of Brexit for patients, doctors and health services.

‘Given what we now know about the potential impact of Brexit on the NHS and the nation’s health, and the dangers a ‘no-deal’ Brexit presents for the NHS, the BMA’s ARM voted in June to change our policy to opposition to Brexit’.

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