Health leaders have written to Boris Johnson warning him of the impact of a no-deal Brexit. The heads of 17 royal colleges and health charities across the UK say clinicians are “unable to reassure patients” that their healthcare won’t be affected. In addition, they have “significant concerns” about shortages of medical supplies.
The letter calls for the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock to be put on the EU exit strategy committee chaired by Michael Gove, who is in charge of no-deal planning. The signatories argue that without adequate planning, various logistical problems could have “huge consequences on the lives of millions of people”.
There’s concern that medicines would be vulnerable to severe extended delays, as three-quarters of the UK’s supplies enter the country across the English Channel. If there’s a no-deal Brexit, customs delays at the border could result in patients being unable to get hold of essential medication.
With more than two-thirds of the UK’s pharmaceutical imports coming from the EU, the government has said it’s drawing up contingency routes for supplies. The government previously announced a tender for a £25m contract for express freight services to deliver medicines with a short shelf life within 24 hours. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies have been told to build up stockpiles.
Health leaders have argued that the NHS will already be overstretched on 31st October, with winter closing in and the risk that flu cases will increase. There’s already a delay on the flu vaccine this year owing to the increasingly complex formulation. This delay, added to the particularly virulent strain of flu currently in Australia, could add up to a perfect storm.
When vaccine shortages occur, health services might try to rush additional doses into the country. But this could prove difficult with hold-ups at Calais and Dover. Newsnight recently reported that delays occurred during a “dry run” of emergency aircraft deliveries of radioisotopes used in cancer treatment that are normally delivered by road.
There are also serious current delays on HRT treatment with many women suffering ill effects because their medication is out of stock. As one of the largest markets, there’s difficulty in pharmaceutical companies meeting UK demand. A spokesperson from the Department of Health said it was working with suppliers to maintain the flow of medicines to patients, but there’s a real possibility that Brexit could dangerously exacerbate existing problems in the supply chain.
Many in the health industry fear that the NHS won’t be able to cope with the additional challenges that Brexit might bring. With chronic staff shortages and doctor burnout at critical level, there’s a risk that the British public could be facing a tough winter.
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