Posted on 25/07/2018 by
The NHS in England is preparing to stockpile medicines and blood products in case of a "no deal" Brexit, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
He said he was confident a deal would be reached but it was "responsible" to prepare for all outcomes.
He told the Health Select Committee he had met medical industry leaders to "accelerate" preparations since taking over as health secretary two weeks ago.
The government is stepping up planning for a "no deal" Brexit.
But ministers have so far rejected talk of shortages and queues of lorries at ports if the EU and UK can not reach a deal by March next year, when the UK officially leaves the bloc.
Both the government and the EU have insisted they want to avoid a "no deal" Brexit but key differences remain as they enter the critical phase of talks. The UK is sticking by its insistence that "no deal is better than a bad deal".
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Mr Hancock said: "We are working right across government to ensure that the health sector and the industry are prepared and that people's health will be safeguarded in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
"This includes the chain of medical supplies, vaccines, medical devices, clinical consumables, blood products.
"And I have asked the department to work up options for stockpiling by industry.
"We are working with industry for the potential need for stockpiling in the event of a no-deal Brexit."
The health and social care secretary said such planning carried a "cost implication".
"We are also focusing on the importance of a continuous supply of medicines that have a short shelf life - so some of the medicines most difficult to provide in a no-deal scenario where there is difficult access through ports will need to be flown in.
"I hope that even under a no-deal scenario that there will still be smooth movement in through ports."
He said the government would also be setting out "contingency plans" for people booking holidays in EU countries who might need medical insurance in the event of a no deal scenario.
Labour's shadow health minister Justin Madders said: "We need a Brexit deal which puts patients first but now we know that the NHS is having to stockpile medicines because of this government's chaotic handling of Brexit.
"This is the terrifying reality of this government's failure to prioritise the NHS in the Brexit negotiations."
Simon Stevens, NHS England's chief executive, said earlier this month that "extensive" planning for a no deal Brexit was under way, around the supply of medicines and equipment.
Government departments are planning to issue guidance to businesses and consumers over the summer break on how to cope with a no deal Brexit.
Brexit Minister Lord Callanan dismissed claims there were plans to stockpile food.
"I am not aware of any plans for stockpiling food. It seems to me to be a fairly ridiculous scare story," he told the House of Lords.
"There are many countries outside of the European Union that manage to feed their citizens perfectly satisfactorily without the benefit of EU processes."
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs the government would take steps to ensure an "adequate food supply".