• Ministers must act “very, very soon” to re-boot no deal Brexit plans, warns NHS chief
  • NHS “completely dependent on additional dedicated ferry capacity procured by other parts of government”
  • Government must send “clear signal to re-stock the stockpiles” to drugs companies.

Ministers must act “very, very soon” to re-boot contingency plans for a no deal Brexit if the NHS and suppliers are to be ready for the UK to crash out of the EU on 31 October, NHS England’s chief executive has warned.

Simon Stevens told MPs that the government needed to “push the button on those additional contracts” for transporting and storing vital medical consumables, goods and drugs designed to protect the NHS in the event of a no deal Brexit in October “within the next several days or weeks”.

As well as re-activating a whole sequence of logistics, freight transport, air and sea, and storage arrangements which had been put in place for previous Brexit deadlines on 29 March and 12 April, Mr Stevens told the Commons health committee they needed “refreshing”.

This was to factor in “seasonal variations” because the latest proposed date raised the prospect of a no deal exit heading into winter, and flu season, rather than spring, meaning different medications and quantities needed to be factored in.

Mr Stevens said: “The NHS is completely dependent on the additional dedicated ferry capacity that will be procured by other parts of government. If that’s going to be available in time for 31 October government has to push the button on those additional contracts very, very soon within the next several days or weeks.

“Our view is that to reduce the risks of supply disruption then it is sensible to ensure that that additional ferry capacity dedicated to high priority NHS goods is coming on stream and that means decisions in the next few weeks at the very latest.

Asked if this had to happen before a new Conservative leader and prime minister was elected on 23 July, he said: “I’m not saying it would be too late [if it happened after 23 July], but I’m saying it would be advisable to make a decision as to how to get that capacity sooner rather than later.”

Asked what had happened to the drugs stockpiled for previous Brexit target dates, he said it was his understanding that the “majority” of them had been used without wastage, with the system looking to use and then replenish the stockpiles.

He said he would come to the committee with further details but that it was vital that ministers gave a “a clear signal to re-stock the stockpiles” to pharmaceutical companies.

NHS England set up a no deal Brexit team at the end of last year which is now being headed by NHS England director of acute care Keith Willett. Before the March deadline the team had 200 staff seconded to it.


Updated 16.50 June 26th

The DHSC issued a guidance letter this afternoon announcing the re-procurement of the ferry contract, one day after Mr Stevens’ comments

The Medicines Supply Contingency Planning Programme was welcomed by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry but their chief executive said there was an easier way to guarantee supply.

Mike thompson said in a statement: ”Pharmaceutical companies have been doing everything in their power to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU. Our members have been increasing stocks, duplicating testing and planning for alternative routes where possible.

“But some things are outside of their control. Additional government-secured freight capacity was key to company planning for a ‘no deal’ in March and this must be available to companies again as they prepare for the end of October. Our members will be pleased that the government are taking steps to put this capacity in place again and await further information about how this will work in practice.

“However, it is extremely challenging for pharmaceutical companies to be continually preparing for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Leaving the EU with a deal in place remains the best way to minimise any potential disruption to medicines supplies.”