The government has warned pharmaceutical companies to stockpile six weeks’ worth of drugs as a precaution against disruptions caused by the end of the Brexit transition period.
In a letter to medicine suppliers, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) advised companies to boost their reserves as a priority.
Published online on Monday, the letter reiterates that ministers will not be asking for an extension to the transition period past December 31, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
There are concerns that the Covid-19 crisis has led to a dwindling of some medical stocks and that a disorderly exit without a trade deal could cause further disruption.
Pharmaceutical firms were advised to plan for all scenarios including reduced traffic flow at short crossings such as between Calais and Dunkirk, and Dover and Folkestone.
‘We recognise that global supply chains are under significant pressure, exacerbated by recent events with Covid-19,’ the letter read.
‘However, we encourage companies to make stockpiling a key part of contingency plans, and ask industry, where possible, to stockpile to a target level of six weeks’ total stock on UK soil.’
The advice comes amid continued uncertainty over whether the UK and the EU will be able to strike an agreement on a future relationship before time runs out.
Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last month that London’s position made the prospects of a deal ‘at this point unlikely’.
The British Medical Association, the trade union representing doctors, warned the stockpile is ‘at best a short-term solution’.
Deputy council chairman Dr David Wrigley said: ‘With the transition period only months away and at the height of what will be an undoubtedly difficult winter, this is incredibly concerning.
‘The BMA has consistently warned that a no-deal Brexit could have a potentially devastating impact on the NHS and consequently the health of the nation. Now, more than ever, it is absolutely crucial that the Government secure a relationship that protects the future health of this country.’
Liberal Democrat leadership contender Layla Moran called the news ‘chilling’.
‘It is chilling to hear that as the country braces itself for a second wave of coronavirus later this year, we also risk facing shortages of vital medical supplies due to a no deal Brexit,’ she said.
‘The government must not put its Brexit ideology ahead of people’s lives.
‘Ministers should publish this letter and carry out an urgent impact assessment of how No Deal would affect the country’s ability to cope with a second wave. The public and businesses cannot be kept in the dark any longer’.