Hancock's half baked: plan to maintain medicine supplies 'could cost £2bn'

Health secretary Matt Hancock

The health secretary's plan to set aside six weeks' worth of vital medicines to avoid supply disruptions in the event of a no-deal Brexit could cost up to £2bn, it was warned today.

Anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain used figures collated by think-tank the King's Fund earlier this year to suggest the cost of the temporary stockpile - which would presumably then be run down over future months - at up to £2bn.

The King's Fund data suggested the total drugs bill for the NHS in 2016-17 was £17.4bn.

In a letter to health and care providers last week, health secretary Matt Hancock said his department had 'stepped up' its planning for a no-deal scenario and would guarantee an extra six weeks worth of supplies of medicines by March 29 next year.

Labour MP Owen Smith, a champion for Best for Britain, said: "I don't remember anyone warning that Brexit would mean we'd have stockpile drugs or this would cost the NHS and taxpayers up to £2bn.

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"Maybe they should have slapped that on the side of the bus.

"Every day it seems as though there is another hidden cost being revealed. Perhaps, Johnson, Gove, Farage, Raab and the rest of the Brexit snake oil salesmen should have told us to read the small print. That would have been more honest, at least."

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In his letter, Hancock said the government had made "significant progress in negotiations with the EU and remains confident we will leave with a good deal for both sides, that supports existing and future healthcare collaboration".

But he adds: "However, as a responsible government, we continue to prepare proportionately for all scenarios, including the unlikely outcome that we leave the EU without any deal in March 2019.

"Along with other government departments, the Department of Health and Social Care has stepped up its planning for a 'no deal' scenario. We now have robust plans in place to protect patient safety and healthcare provision.

"Today's announcement concerns our preparations to ensure that the NHS, other service providers, and ultimately patients continue to get the supplies they need, in a timely way."

Under the medicines scheme, Hancock says in the letter, pharmaceutical companies should ensure they have an additional six weeks supply of medicines in the UK on top of their own normal stock levels.

The scheme also includes separate arrangements for the air freight of medicines with short shelf-lives, such as medical radioisotopes.

"The government is working closely with companies who provide medicines in the UK to ensure patients continue to get the medicines they need," Hancock goes on.

"Hospitals, GPs and community pharmacies throughout the UK do not need to take any steps to stockpile additional medicines, beyond their business as usual stock levels. There is also no need for clinicians to write longer NHS prescriptions.

"Local stockpiling is not necessary and any incidences involving the over ordering of medicines will be investigated and followed up with the relevant Chief or Responsible Pharmacist directly."

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