Government admits importing of medicine will take longer after no-deal Brexit

Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA.

Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Government guidance appears to suggest ministers expect the process of importing medicine from the EU after no-deal Brexit will take longer - despite repeated assurances the public need not worry.

Documents published by the Department for Health and Social Care (DoHSC) warn suppliers to change the way they operate to accommodate a longer process.

The DoHSC advises that "if your organisation currently relies on receiving products from the EU with short lead times of 24 to 48 hours, plan for longer lead times of up to five days."

The advice applies to commissioners and healthcare providers, including hospitals, care homes, GP practices and community pharmacies.

The government information also tells providers to "make sure you are prepared to receive stock deliveries outside normal hours."

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It appears to be an admission that the government expect long delays from additional customs procedures, queues and checks at the ports in the case of No Deal.

More than 5% of all imports to the UK are pharmaceuticals with between 80 and 90% of all generic medicines (which make up over three-quarters of drugs used by the NHS) are imported from the EU.

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Campaigners claim that it means the cost of extra procedures, tariffs and delays to the NHS "could be massive".

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The guidance echoes the warnings which were part of the recently released Yellowhammer documents, the government's official no deal plans, that warn of "delays to HGVs of 1.5 - 2.5 days".

The documents add that "the reliance of medicines and medical products' supply chains on the short straits crossing make them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays."

"Delays to supplies of medicine are a million miles away from anything that was promised in 2016," said Dr Rosena Alin Khan MP, an A&E doctor and a leading supporter of the People's Vote. "This guidance, which flies in the face of all the assurances offered by Boris Johnson and his ministers, shows that they simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing for the country and for the health service. Piling costs and pressures on the NHS and patients is not patriotic or democratic when Boris Johnson knows it is not what anyone in the country wants.

She continued: "Any sort of Brexit will make things tougher for the NHS, but nothing would be worse than No Deal.

"Now that we can see what the costs and risks of Brexit are, the only fair and democratic way out of the crisis is to hold a final say referendum.

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: "We have robust contingency plans in place to ensure patients will continue to receive their medicines without delay after Brexit, whatever the circumstances."

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