The situation is currently hanging in the balance – but NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said some contingency plans would have to be enacted in December, with others needing to follow early in the new year, if a no-deal scenario appeared likely. Mr Stevens’ comments to the Health and Social Care Select Committee placed further pressure on MPs, who are due to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan on December 11, and would have to seek a fresh agreement if they rejected it. During the same hearing, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said pharmaceutical companies would need to shoulder any stockpiling burden if there was a no-deal Brexit, to allow the NHS and individuals to receive medication and other supplies normally.
He also said that he did not “exactly” tell the Cabinet earlier this month that he could not guarantee patients would not die if Britain left the EU without a deal.
In a lengthy hearing earlier today, Mr Stevens was pressed about contingency planning for Brexit.
He told MPs NHS trusts have been told to report on their supply lines and contracts by the end of November to allow it to produce a comprehensive assessment in the first 10 days of December.
He added: “We will obviously review the situation comprehensively post-November 30 and I think frankly, this side of Christmas, alongside the plans, were we to be in a no-deal scenario then some of those plans would need to be enacted.”
Mr Hancock was also asked by Labour’s Ben Bradshaw about reports that he told the Cabinet earlier this month that he “couldn’t guarantee people won’t die” because of a no-deal Brexit.
There have been fears about the supply of drugs and other medical supplies from EU nations in the event no deal is agreed.
He replied: “We don’t comment on leaks.
“That isn’t exactly what I said and we have been very clear that if everybody does what they need to do then we can ensure continuity of supply.”
“As my permanent secretary tells me, we shouldn’t use words like guarantee.
“What we can say is that we are confident that if everybody does what they need to do then there will be the continuity.”
Addressing the possibility of stockpiling in the event of a no-deal Brexit Mr Hancock added: “We have been very clear to leaders in the NHS that the stockpiling is going to be done by pharmaceutical companies and we will support them and are supporting them in doing that.
“It does not need to be done above the normal levels of supplies by NHS trusts or by individuals.
“This is very important because if too many people try to stockpile then you end up with more demand for stockpiling, when what we need to do is stockpile within the pharmaceutical companies so they can fulfil their contracts in the normal way.
“So if you are in an NHS trust or pharmacy or in primary care or if you are an individual, then the supplies are available to you in the normal way and we are doing work to ensure that supplies will be uninterrupted.”
The debate highlighted a worrying conundrum for politicians, none of whom are able to say what the outcome will be until Parliament has voted on Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement in the week of December 10 – and possibly not even then.
In a statement issued today, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), a Brussels-based trade association founded in 1978 representing the research-based pharmaceutical industry operating in Europe, said: “Since the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), EFPIA, in partnership with the ABPI, have been evaluating the implications of Brexit for the pharmaceutical industry in Europe and the UK.