With just 31 days to go until Brexit, the government has attempted to allay fears of shortages of medical devices in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a formal deal.
Health minister, Stephen Hammond, said the government has been working with trade bodies and product suppliers to come up with measures to ensure a steady supply of medical devices to the UK after Brexit.
In a statement presented to the House of Lords, Mr Hammond claimed that the Department for Health and Social Care has analysed the supply chains of “close to half a million product lines of medical devices” and various other goods the health system relies on.
Mr Hammond said: “While we never give guarantees, we are confident that, if everyone – including suppliers, freight companies, international partners and the health and care system – does what they need to do, the supply of medicines and medical products should be uninterrupted in the event of exiting the EU without a deal.”
For months there has been widespread concern that NHS supply chains will be under threat and patients will not get the products they need if minister do not secure a deal before the UK’s departure.
Mr Hammond said that the health department has placed extra orders for the medical devices the NHS supply chain routinely stocks.
“Although the NHS supply chain organisation normally only covers England, we have worked closely with the national procurement and logistics services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure their demand levels for the UK are covered.
“Not all suppliers have the capability to hold stock of their full product range in the UK and routinely supply product directly from EU distribution centres to care providers or patients.
“These suppliers are working on their own contingency measures; however, we have also put in place national contingency measures to provide a reliable and responsive means of moving product into the UK, including additional daily air freight capacity from Maastricht to Birmingham.”
Mr Hammond added that a “multi-layered” approach to guaranteeing the NHS supply chain will be “essential”.
He said a combination of securing freight, buffer stocks, stockpiling and warehousing, and regulatory requirements, will be needed to ensure the continuation of medical supplies in the event of a no deal exit.
However, new research published in The Lancet argues that there is little evidence suggesting the UK is prepared for eventualities.
The report said: “For instance, the recently published NHS 10-year plan ran to 136 pages, with only two mentions of Brexit, neither of which offered any detail about what it might mean or how any threats would be addressed.”
Meanwhile, shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the research “devastatingly reveals the dangers to the NHS of a no deal Brexit”.