Government tells drug companies to stockpile six weeks' worth of medicine in case of no-deal Brexit

Health secretary warned the request would be ‘a massive challenge’ for the industry

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 23 August 2018 18:28 BST
What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

Health secretary Matt Hancock has told drug companies to ensure they have six weeks additional supplies of medicines on top of their normal stockpiles to avoid disruption caused by a possible no-deal Brexit.

The remarks from Mr Hancock came as Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, released the first tranche of technical notes outlining the government’s preparations and warnings to businesses if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal.

Among the 24 detailed papers it was also revealed that credit card users could be hit with a new “Brexit tax” amounting to £166m, UK citizens living in Europe face the prospect of losing access to pension income and new red tape could delay foreign sperm donations arriving in Britain.

In one of the most stark warnings, Mr Hancock told NHS staff and service providers that the move to increase pharmaceutical companies’ stockpiles was necessary “in case imports from the EU through certain routes” are affected if Theresa May fails to strike a deal with negotiators in Brussels.

The request, according to the chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, Steve Bates, would be a “massive challenge” for the industry to deliver in less than 200 days.

But Mr Hancock also warned that hospitals, GPs and community pharmacies should not hoard or stockpile additional drugs “beyond their business” as usual levels.

“There is no need for clinicians to write longer NHS prescriptions,” he said. “Local stockpiling is not necessary and any incidences involving over-ordering medicines will be investigated.”

He continued: “Clinicians should advise patients that the government has plans in place to ensure a continued supply of medicines to patients from the moment we leave the EU. Patients will not need and should not seek to store additional medicines at home.”

Responding to Mr Hancock’s letter to health officials on Thursday, the Labour MP Owen Smith, a supporter of the pro-EU campaign group Best for Britain, said: “I don’t remember anyone warning that Brexit would mean we’d have stockpile drugs or wrap the NHS in red tape.

“But every day it seems as though there is another hidden cost being revealed. Perhaps, Johnson, Gove, Farage, Raab and the rest of the Brexit snake oil salesmen should have told us to read the small print. That would have been more honest, at least.

“How on earth have we ended up in a situation where the government needs to ensure Britain is prepared to have medicines flown in, in order to protect the lives of patients.”

Unveiling the first two-dozen documents on Thursday, ministers urged the public “not to be alarmed” by the planning for a no-deal scenario as they set out some of the broad and deep impacts of leaving the bloc without a deal – for example, tobacco manufacturers will even be forced to find new warning pictures for their product packets.

A workable solution to the issue of the Irish border was also missing from the first batch of no-deal planning papers, with more expected next month.

In a section dealing with individual consumers of financial services, officials said: “The cost of credit card payments between the UK and the EU will likely increase, and these cross-border payments will no longer be covered by the surcharging ban (which prevents businesses from being able to charge consumers for using a specific payment method).”

The senior Labour MP Hilary Benn, who chairs parliament’s Brexit Select Committee, said “a lot of questions remain to be answered” following the publication of the documents.

Keir Starmer says Labour will keep 'all options on the table' for Brexit

He said: “These papers tell us three things. First, they confirm that no deal, far from being better than a bad deal, would be very damaging economically.

“Businesses that export to the EU would face the cost and bureaucracy of customs, safety and security and rules of origin declarations for the first time, and in certain sectors, tariffs.

“Having wasted two years, these papers show exactly why no-deal is unacceptable and why ministers must now ensure that an agreement is reached with the EU which provides a transition period and protects jobs, trade and investment.”

But in a speech in Westminster, Mr Raab said a good deal with Brussels is “within our sights”, adding: “We have made clear that if negotiations don’t achieve the optimum outcome we will continue to be a responsible European neighbour and partner.”

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