UK taxpayers to foot bill for stockpiling medicines to prepare for no-deal Brexit, government admits

‘We are talking to the pharmaceutical industry about the extra cost they might have to incur,’ Matt Hancock says

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 06 September 2018 12:46
Comments
Taxpayers will have to foot some of the bill for stockpiling medicines in case of no deal Brexit, says Matt Hancock

Taxpayers will have to foot the bill for stockpiling NHS medicines to prepare for crashing out of the EU without a deal, the health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock revealed he was “talking to the pharmaceutical industry about what extra costs the government should cover” for the task of building up supplies.

He also said he was planning to “switch supply from land to air” for short-life medicines – although that would appear to depend on a scrambled aviation agreement with the EU.

However, Mr Hancock insisted there was no cause for alarm, saying: “I am confident that, if everybody does what they need to do, then we can have an unhindered flow of medicines, even in the event of no-deal Brexit.”

The response from drug companies – who have been asked to do the stockpiling – had been “very good”, he added.

Last month, the UK BioIndustry Association, warned that request, to ensure an additional six weeks’ supply, was “a massive challenge” for the industry.

Under the plans, hospitals, GPs and community pharmacies do not need to stockpile medicines and nor will doctors write longer prescriptions. Patients have also been advised that they do not need to store additional medicines at home.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hancock was asked if the government would pay the bill for extra costs, such as “refrigeration”.

“We won’t pay for the drugs themselves, because they will be sold on into the NHS, so we are not going to pay for them twice,” he replied.

“But we are talking to the pharmaceutical industry about the extra cost that they might have to incur in that eventuality. Of course, I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Mr Hancock insisted the talks were “going positively in terms of getting the deal that we want”, despite the EU rejecting the heart of Theresa May’s Chequers plan.

But Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, seized on the admission, saying: “Ministers have gone from promising ‘sunlit uplands’ to admitting that taxpayers may have to foot the bill for stockpiling vital medical supplies.

“This dystopian vision of Brexit Britain is not what anyone voted for in 2016. People wanted a stronger NHS, not a health service on its knees, at risk of running out of medicine, equipment and staff.”

Last month, Steve Bates, the head of the BioIndustry Association, pledged to be “prepared for a scenario industry really does not want”, but added: “We should be under no illusions that this will be easy.”

The plan to fly in supplies of short-life medicines will be threatened if there is a no-deal Brexit unless a specific aviation deal can be struck.

Falling back on World Trade Organisation rules will not grant the UK air traffic control rights if it leaves the EU without an overall agreement, the government has been warned.

Therefore, leaving the EU’s Single Aviation Market next March without a replacement arrangement would strip most UK-based airlines of their operating licences for the 27 countries.

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