A no-deal Brexit could jeopardise the UK’s access to medicine just as a second wave of coronavirus could hit.
The pharmaceuticals industry has previously told the government that it needs a stockpile of at least six weeks worth of medicines, but stock was being ‘depleted’ as a result of the first wave, with the focus on the essentials for dealing with the coronavirus.
The Financial Times reports that health secretary Matt Hancock has accepted a need for a formal plan to rebuild the stockpile of drugs before Brexit, but Whitehall officials has raised concern that Covid-19 is limiting the possibility.
An official told the newspaper that the government will have to source supplies at a time when the industry is already under pressure.
‘Industry is saying that all last autumn’s stock has run down during Covid and the department now thinks it looks doubtful stockpiling can be industry-led, as per last time, so the government is looking at its own options too,’ said one.
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They added that there is ‘huge concern’ in Whitehall about the risk of a second wave.
Experts claim all European governments are now looking at making the appropriate preparations, meaning there will be even greater competition for securing what the UK needs.
Warwick Smith, director-general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association, said: ‘We must act quickly in the UK to ensure that we are not left behind.’
Voices from the industry have previously stressed that a no-deal Brexit could lead to delays on imports of medicines due to possible customs delays.
The government has already faced criticism for struggling to secure essential personal protective equipment and ventilators quickly enough at the start of the coronavirus.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran said it was another reason why the government must put forward for an extension to the transition period.
She said: ‘A no-deal Brexit could limit our access to medicine during a second wave of coronavirus.
‘The government needs to stop putting ideology ahead of public health and extend the transition period. They cannot risk a dangerous no-deal Brexit just as we recover from the worst pandemic in living memory.
‘People and businesses have suffered enough this year, the last thing we need is a shortage of medical supplies this winter.
‘The government must also start being transparent and regularly publish figures on national stockpiles of vital drugs and medicines. The public can’t be kept in the dark about how prepared we are.’
A spokesperson said the government was in regular contact with industry and partners to ensure supplies in ‘all scenarios’. ’Any responsible government has a duty to prepare for all scenarios and robust contingency planning continues in line with our work to avoid a second peak of coronavirus infections,’ the spokesperson added.