- Reuters / Hannah McKay
- Head of NHS England says “extensive” planning is underway to avoid medicine and doctor shortages under no deal Brexit.
- Plans drawn up by Whitehall officials suggested parts of the UK could begin to suffer medicine shortages within two weeks if the UK crashes out of the EU with no deal.
- There have also been warnings that a no deal Brexit would disrupt the supply of medical isotopes which are essential for various forms of cancer treatment.
- The government insists a no deal Brexit can be avoided.
LONDON – “Extensive” planning is underway to avoid shortages of medicine and doctors under a no-deal Brexit, the head of the NHS has said.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said “significant planning” was happening to ensure that patients would continue being able to access drugs if they were delayed by border checks.
“Nobody’s pretending this is a desirable situation, but if that’s where we get to it will not have been unforeseen,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
Nobody’s pretending this is a desirable situation.
Hospitals have also been told to try and persuade European staff to continue working in the UK to ensure the staffing crisis within the NHS does not worsen, he said.
The government insists a no deal Brexit can be avoided, and negotiations continue to take place between the UK and EU.
But there have been a number of warnings in recent weeks that the government is running out of time to secure a deal before autumn, to give parliament time to ratify the deal.
Stevens had previously said that he had not been tasked with preparing for a no deal Brexit, but that appears to have changed as the Brexit deadline looms.
Around 37 million patient packs of medicine arrive from the rest of the EU every month, and 45 million go the other way. The pharmaceutical industry is increasingly concerned that border checks without a deal would seriously disrupt the flow of goods and delay time-sensitive delivery of medicine.
Plans drawn up by Whitehall officials suggested parts of the UK could begin to suffer medicine shortages within two weeks under a no-deal scenario.
There have also been warnings that the UK’s departure from Euratom, the regulator for Europe’s nuclear industry, would disrupt the supply of medical isotopes which are essential for various forms of cancer treatment.
“There is immediate planning, which the health department, with other parts of government, is undertaking, around securing medicine supply and equipment under different scenarios,” Stevens said.
“That will obviously crystallise when it’s clear this autumn what the position will be.
“Nobody’s in any doubt that top of the list in terms of ensuring continued supplies for all the things that we need has got to be those medical supplies.”
Theresa May will gather her Cabinet at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, on Friday, to try and agree on a negotiating position for trade talks with the EU.
She is expected to move towards a softer form of Brexit while pro-Brexit colleagues are preparing to mount fierce opposition to any such proposals.