Brexit: No deal would subject hospitals across EU to shortages of tens of thousands of vital items, German minister warns

Tens of thousands of products likely to become unavailable almost overnight, Jens Spahn warns

Tim Wyatt
Friday 29 March 2019 16:36
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What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

A no-deal Brexit could leave hospitals across Europe without tens of thousands of essential drugs and other medical supplies, Germany’s health minister has warned.

Jens Spahn warned on Thursday if Britain crashes out of the EU vital medical products produced and certified in the UK would overnight lose their legal access to the European market.

Currently UK experts validate and approve thousands of medical products on behalf of the whole EU.

Items especially vulnerable in a no-deal scenario include pacemakers, medical implants, and blood products used to test for HIV and other viruses.

Much of the fear surrounding a disorderly Brexit has focused on the NHS, which imports 37 million packages of drugs each month from the continent.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered the stockpiling of large quantities of drugs in case supplies are temporarily cut off following a no-deal exit.

In October, England’s most senior health civil servant warned MPs it would be “extremely difficult” to guarantee the NHS would get the supplies it needs, despite ordering pharmaceutical firms to stockpile last summer.

But Mr Spahn cautioned the danger worked the other way as well. The EU imports 45 million packages of drugs from Britain each month and some of these would be difficult to replace in the short term.

“In the event of a disorderly Brexit, it is reasonable to assume that tens of thousands of medical products would lose their formal market access in the EU-27, and would therefore no longer be available on the European market,” Mr Spahn said.

“I fear that the provision of blood products to patients in Germany could be at risk from the middle of April 2019.”

According to German newspaper Handelsblatt, Mr Spahn also called for Brussels to co-ordinate a “crisis plan” to deal with the emergency.

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This could include a year-long relaxation of the rules which would treat a no-deal Britain as a third country, to allow UK-certified items to continue being distributed across the EU.

After MPs rejected Theresa May’s withdrawal deal at the third time of asking on Friday, the European Commission warned that a no-deal exit was ‘likely’ in two weeks' time.

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