NHS officials are now planning explicitly for protecting public health in the event of a Brexit no-deal scenario, less than a year after its chief executive said ministers had not given any orders to do so.
The head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, said that there is now “significant planning” for protecting the NHS including ensuring vital medical supplies can get through if Britain crashes out of the EU.
The NHS boss was asked on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show whether comments he made to MPs on the Commons Health Committee in October 2017, that his organisation had not been asked to plan for a no deal scenario, had changed.
Mr Stevens said: “There is immediate planning which the health department, with other parts of government, are undertaking around securing medicine supply and equipment under different scenarios, and that will obviously crystallise when it’s clear later this autumn what the UK’s position will be.”
“Nobody’s in any doubt whatsoever that top of the list in terms of ensuring continued supplies for all the things that we need in this country right at the top of the list has got to be those medical supplies.”
The UK relies on 370 million packs of medicine from the EU each month, in addition to blood plasma supplies and radioactive isotopes used in X-rays and treatment, Marr said.
Mr Stevens said “nobody is pretending this is a desirable situation”, of the looming prospect of quitting the EU without a deal to guarantee medical supplies, but he assured the public contingencies are in place.
Senior civil servants said in June that hospitals could run out of medicines within two weeks of a hard Brexit where the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal in place.
It could also lead to fatal delays in cancer treatments if unstable radioactive isotopes or blood supplies from the continent are rendered useless while stuck in customs queues.
EU officials said on Saturday that there is no hope of a deal being in place by October.
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