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Published on 21 February 2019

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No-deal Brexit could disrupt medicines supply by ‘at least’ six months, health minister warns

Manufacturers may have to rethink the way they transport stock to avoid ‘at least’ six months of border delays in a no-deal Brexit, a letter from a UK health minister has warned.

letter from the MP Stephen Hammond, sent this month (8 February), was written in response to concerns raised by the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee about access to medical supplies in a no-deal Brexit scenario and outlined the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) “detailed contingency plans”.

The short straits crossings via Dover and Folkestone, through which 90% of medicines enter the UK, “may be subject to a significantly reduced flow of goods for at least six months rather than the previous estimate of six weeks of disruption”, according to the letter.

‘Critical’ medicines affected

Mr Hammond said disruption to supplies would affect “critical” prescription-only and pharmacy medicines and would also affect UK manufacturers.

He said: “The possible border delays indicated in the updated planning assumptions would impact any import of medicines, including prescription-only and pharmacy medicines, critical to the continuity of patient care.

‘It would also impact UK manufacturers of medicines that may rely on the import of raw materials from or via the EU. Therefore, we have asked all suppliers to consider their supply routes and whether any re-routing to avoid the short straits is necessary.”

Flying medicines to UK?

In December, the Government predicted disruption could cause “up to six months” of reduced access across the channel and announced plans for stockpiling and began discussions to arrange the transportation of medicines with short shelf lives via air freight.

This month’s update saw suppliers instructed to ensure that these plans are in place for those medicines that cannot “reasonably” be stockpiled. However, Mr Hammond refused to give the committee further information about which medicines would be prioritised and the cost of flying them in for a six-week period, citing commercial sensitivities.

He said: “The Department is still reviewing what support it may provide to companies flying medicines to the UK. The cost of flying in medicines is a confidential commercial decision made between air-freight companies and the manufacturer.”



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