Hospital Dr News

No-deal Brexit will probably lead to delays in NHS supplies, report says

There are likely to be delays in NHS and social care supplies if the UK leaves Europe without a deal.

That’s the conclusion of the National Audit Office (NAO) report, which highlights that there is still significant work to be done.

This includes improving government’s understanding of preparedness across the supplier base, putting in place sufficient freight capacity to carry priority goods, and improving the readiness of the social care sector, including nursing homes.

In its report, the NAO has reviewed the Department for Health & Social Care’s (DHSC’s) preparations to make sure the UK has a steady flow of supplies for the health and social care sector when it leaves the EU.

Of the 12,300 medicines used in the UK, DHSC estimates that around 7,000 come from or via the EU.

The NAO recognises that the government has made progress and that it is not possible for anyone to know exactly what will happen at the border if the UK leaves without a deal.

The government’s own “reasonable worst case” assumption is that the flow of goods across the Channel could be reduced to 40-60% of current levels on day one.

The DHSC has encouraged suppliers, including pharmaceutical companies, to build up stockpiles of medicines and other supplies but it has incomplete information about the level of stockpiles in place.

It has also secured additional warehouses for companies to use.

The DHSC has created its own stockpile of six-weeks’ worth of equipment and supplies that the NHS gets through at high volume, such as gloves and syringes. Its stockpile was 88% complete as of 20 September.

Supplies of goods other than medicines for social care providers have not been similarly stockpiled.

The DHSC has asked providers of care in nursing homes and domestically to put in place robust contingency plans for the possible implications of a ‘no deal’ EU Exit, the report says.

But the DHSC does not yet know how many providers have followed its advice, what preparations have been made and whether needs will be met.

Furthermore, the DHSC has started procurement of its own dedicated courier service which can pick up urgent medicines and supplies direct from manufacturers in Europe and deliver them to where they are needed in the UK.

This will provide capacity for 50 pallets and an additional 35m³ of urgent or specialist goods to be transported each day.

Despite recent efforts across government, there is a risk that traders, including medicine suppliers, will not be ready for new border processes by 31 October.

Dr Layla McCay, director of international relations at the NHS Confederation, commented: “The biggest insight this report gives us is just how detailed the government’s health-related Brexit preparations have been. At this stage, the evidence is reassuring that much of what is needed for the NHS is in place.

“But still the report identifies that uncertainties remain and, as we have warned, it is the unknowns and unknowables that present the biggest risk.

“The government still lacks insight into the level of readiness of around a third of the UK’s medicine and medical device/clinical consumable suppliers and freight procurement is clearly working to very tight timescales without margin for unpredictable error.

“Alarm bells should be ringing loudly about the fact the government knows very little about the readiness of the 24,000 social care providers in England alone.”

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