No-deal Brexit: Drug supply plans not yet clear

Pharmacists checking medicines Image copyright Getty Images

Medical and pharmaceutical industry leaders are warning some of the contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit is not as well advanced as it was earlier this year.

They say details of government plans to secure ferry capacity to bring medicines into the UK have still not been finalised - with less than six weeks to go till Britain's planned exit from the EU on 31 October.

Ministers say there is a long term resilience plan which will ensure the UK is ready for Brexit day and beyond.

There have been predictions that a no deal Brexit will cause congestion at the ports of Dover and Calais. 90% of imported drugs and medicines from the EU are shipped to the UK on that route.

Ahead of the expected departure date from the EU in March, the government had commissioned ferry services on two alternative routes with pharmaceutical companies encouraged to book space to ship their products.

The same approach has not been adopted this time with the government indicating there will be ferry space available but still not giving details of the routes.

'Whatever it takes'

Steve Bates, the chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, says he is concerned that, with only weeks to go, companies don't know what they can book to bring supplies across the Channel.

He said: "Last time around, before the last no-deal deadline, we knew in advance the alternative routes, we knew where the ferries were.

"This time around….the industry doesn't know which ports will be available, it doesn't know which ferries will be available."

The Department for Transport said eight firms had signed up to a freight procurement framework, including ferry and aviation operators.

A competition had been launched to allow them to bid for contracts starting on 31 October.

The aim is to avoid bills on the scale run up by the government on freight deals earlier this year.

Officials say the new system is more efficient and has not involved any commitment of taxpayers' money yet.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "We will do whatever it takes to ensure the flow of life-saving medicines into the UK.

"This framework guarantees long-term national resilience and I'm confident the combined expertise of these high quality firms appointed to the framework will ensure we are ready for Brexit day and beyond."

Mr Bates added that extensive planning for most contingencies had taken place with the industry in partnership with the government and there was a "robust system".

But he said the process of moving medicines across borders was not clear in a no-deal scenario.

There are also calls for the government to provide more information to doctors to advise their patients about the availability of medicines if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said it was clear from patient helplines that there is "anxiety and worry".

She urged ministers and NHS leaders to communicate more effectively.

Alan Boyd, of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said no deal was a "serious threat".

He warned patients not to use unauthorised websites to stockpile medicines and urged them to consult their pharmacists or GPs with any concerns about their treatment or medication.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We want to alleviate any fears by stressing that the government is doing everything we can to make sure patients receive the medicines they need when we leave the EU, whatever the circumstances."

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