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7 December 2018

NHS buying fridges for no-deal drug stockpiles

The health secretary has issued updates on contingency planning, warning of six months of “significantly reduced access”.  

By Augusta Riddy

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has written to the health and social care sector, updating pharmaceutical companies on the government’s preparations for the “worst-case scenario” that the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Today’s letter explains that “revised” government predictions now expect there to be “significantly reduced access” for up to six months to the short routes between Dover and Calais, “where the frequent and closed loop nature of these mean that both exports and imports would be affected”. To avoid the expected congestion, the government plans to prioritise the movement of medicine and medical devices through alternative routes. “Roll on/roll off” freight capacity will mean that imports can be driven away from ports immediately after they enter the UK.

In August, Hancock requested that pharmaceutical companies that supply British patients ensure they have six weeks’ worth of additional supplies or “buffer” stocks. In today’s letter the health secretary reports that he is “extremely pleased by the response rate” by companies to the stockpiling requests.

However, he does admit that the revised predictions around disruption mean that stockpiling will have to be “supplemented with additional actions”. He stresses that health and social care providers such as hospitals, GPs and care homes should not stockpile drugs on their premises, however, as this could cause “shortages in other areas”. Appearing on the Today programme this morning, the health secretary said that the government was buying “a large collection of refrigeration units so that those drugs that can be stockpiled.”

Hancock, who became health secretary in June, voted for Remain in the referendum. He has remained loyal to Prime Minister, frequently representing her position in the press.

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The letter also covered areas such as supply of donor tissue, and addresses concerns over the NHS workforce. The full text can be read here.