Wales politics

Welsh NHS needs to ramp up Brexit preparation, AMs say

David Rees
Image caption David Rees said it is "vital that the Welsh Government ramps ups it efforts"

The Welsh Government must "ramp up its efforts" to prepare the health service for Brexit, a group of AMs have said.

The assembly's Brexit committee have heard time "may be running out" to sufficiently prepare for a departure from the EU without a deal.

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said a 'no deal' scenario would be "potentially catastrophic" for health and social services in Wales.

The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019.

The report is the committee's latest to examine how prepared Wales is for the UK's withdrawal from the EU, having previously looked at the issues facing Welsh ports.

AMs took evidence from a number of health service professionals, including doctors' and nurses' unions.

They heard plans were in place for a "rehearsal" of post-Brexit arrangements in January.

However the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Wales warned the committee that "sufficient time to work through all of the detail may be running out" to deal with a possible 'no deal' Brexit.

Image caption The Welsh Government warns a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for the Welsh NHS

The UK government has reached a Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels but the deal has faced strong opposition in Westminster and is unlikely to secure the backing of a majority of MPs when a vote is held next week.

The Prime Minister Theresa May insists the only alternative to the deal is to leave the EU without an agreement.

In anticipation of a 'no deal' Brexit UK ministers have told pharmaceutical companies to stockpile six weeks' worth of medicines.

The assembly committee heard that 45 million patient packs of medicine move from the UK to the EU every month, with 37 million packs moving in the other direction.

RCN Wales told AMs: "After Brexit the UK may find it more difficult to access medicines and medical devices if we choose to create new frameworks which are different from EU regulations.

"This may cause delays in new drugs being made available for patients, with the potential to cause significant harm."

Committee chairman David Rees said: "The sheer volume of medicines flowing in both directions, coupled with the potential for disruption to supply chains in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit really brought home to us the need for the Welsh Government to ensure that plans are in place to prevent this from happening."

Concerns were also raised about the possible impact of Brexit on Welsh NHS staffing.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There are concerns over delays to new drugs becoming available

According to BMA Cymru: "Any reduction in the number of doctors migrating to the UK, or an increase in the number leaving the UK because of Brexit, will have a destabilising effect on the medical workforce, and the staffing of health and social care services across the UK."

Mr Rees said: "It is vital that the Welsh Government ramps ups it efforts to prepare the health service in Wales for Brexit."

'Continuity essential'

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "A 'no deal' Brexit is potentially catastrophic for health and social services in Wales.

"The UK government is responsible for the supply of medicines and has agreed with the UK pharmaceutical industry that it will build up an extra six weeks stock in the UK.

"However, continuity of supply is essential for many people who rely on their medicines and we will continue to press the UK government for firm assurances that companies are successfully implementing these plans.

"We will respond to the committee's report in due course."

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