A new report by the National Audit Office has revealed that in the event of a no-deal exit from the European Union, the Department of Health and Social Care would be working in “a highly uncertain environment” and that “operating all the elements of its plan would be a hugely demanding task.”
The government is still seeking to ensure that goods can flow through the UK border without significant delays - but the report states that of the 12,300 medicines used in the UK, around 7000 come from or via the EU and that it is still “not possible for anyone to know exactly what will happen at the border if the UK leaves without a deal.”
It also details that the current cross-government “reasonable worst-case” planning assumption is that the flow of goods across the short Channel crossings could be reduced to 40–60% of current levels on day one, with the flow of goods improving to just 50%–70% of current flow after three months and returning to current levels after 12 months.
Further, the report confirms that The Department of Health & Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement have been working with a “wide range of organisations to understand the scale and nature of the supply challenge within their responsibilities.”
In December 2018, the Department brought all its preparations for maintaining supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit under a single Continuity of Supply Programme - with an objective “to safeguard patient care and to ensure that the supply of medicines and medical products remains unhindered in a no-deal scenario”.
As a result, the department has identified several high-risk areas and took steps to fill gaps in the information it held, for example on the reliance of supplies on the short Channel crossings and worked effectively with stakeholders in the medicines industry to understand the challenges they face in the event of a no-deal exit and to address them.
However, despite the extensive preparations there still remains a “significant amount to do before 31 October”, particularly ensuring that the government has a full picture of preparedness across the supplier base and that sufficient cross-government freight capacity is in place.