Health

Health groups warn Brexit drugs supply risk at code red

The U.K. governments preparations for maintaining drug supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit are so lacking that the warning level should be raised to “red,” a group of health organizations has said.

National Health Service providers, pharmaceutical companies and patient groups wrote to the government to warn that Britain is seriously unprepared to maintain access to medicines if there are border delays after Brexit.

In the letter to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock obtained by POLITICO, eight organizations say industry has done all it can in preparing for a cliff-edge Brexit — and that the government needs to take action to prevent widespread drug shortages.

“If this is the reality of U.K. government preparation for No Deal we do not believe that the current medicine supply plans will suffice, and we will have widespread shortages if we do not respond urgently,” the letter dated October 31 says.

Expressing support for Hancocks “efforts to raise the warning level in Government,” the organizations say: “Only when we start to work through options will we all know where we are, but on medicines supply, on what we know and can glean from public information, we think we are at red.”

The groups calls on the government to be more transparent “and reveal what cover we have by therapy area and where there are gaps,” so that the signatories can “find further creative solutions to shortages, but we need the data to engage.”

They also request an urgent meeting in the form of a roundtable between ministers and industry.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement: “The Government is confident of reaching a deal with the EU that benefits patients and the NHS. However, as a responsible Government we are also preparing for a range of potential outcomes in the unlikely event of a no deal.

“As part of our contingency planning, we continue to work closely with pharmaceutical companies and storage providers to ensure the continued supply of critical drug and medicine supplies,” the spokesperson said.

The letter to Hancock is backed by, among others, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the Association of British HealthTech Industries (ABHI), the BioIndustry Association and the Brexit Health Alliance — a conglomerate of NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health groups.

“When an incredibly broad group of medical organizations and bodies are telling the government we are at warning level red, it shows the preparations government has made are both shockingly inadequate and woefully behind,” said Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake.

The government in August asked drugmakers to stockpile an extra six weeks-worth of drug supplies in preparation for delays in importing medicines, but companies have since warned storage will be a major hurdle.

Speaking Wednesday evening on ITVs Peston show, Hancock said that in the event of six weeks of extra supplies not being enough, “then we will have to do things differently,” because “you cant have stockpiles for enormous lengths of delays.”

“All of this is doable. It is difficult. Theres a lot of work going on already to make it happen,” he said, adding that the government is “building refrigerator capacity right now.”

Companies advising the government on how to maintain supplies after a no-deal Brexit have signed strict non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) barring them from revealing information.

Outlining the extent of potential disruptions at Britains borders, the letter cites reports that U.K. minister David Lidington told the Cabinet the Dover-Calais trade route could be limited to 12 percent of normal capacity for six months after Brexit.

The letter points to a recent report from the National Audit Office that concluded 11 out of 12 critical upgrades to IT systems at the border are at risk of not being delivered on time, and that there is a high risk of failure in the government departments border programs for “day one of no deal” due to their scale, complexity and urgency.

With much of the necessary infrastructure unable to be built before March, the timescale is too tight for companies to make the necessary changes, it adds.

This article has been updated to add Health Secretary Matt Hancocks interview with ITV.

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