Medicine ‘will be prioritised’ over food in no-deal Brexit, says Health Secretary

Medicine “will be prioritised” over food if a no-deal Brexit disrupts supply chains, the Health Secretary has said.

Matt Hancock said “very significant” planning is under way to curb the potential impact of no deal on medical supplies.

He told Parliament’s health and social care committee “of course medicines should get priority over food”.

Mr Hancock said: “We have been through detailed, line-by-line analysis of the 12,000 medicines that are licensed in the UK… in order to ensure that there is a plan for the continuity of supply for all medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“The pharmaceutical industry have, I would say, risen to this challenge and done their duty thus far.

“There’s a lot more work that still needs to be done in the remaining time but we do have the time necessary to do what we need to do.”

He said the proportion of food imported into Britain is “much smaller” than medicine, of which half has “some touch point” with the EU.

The admission was criticised by the Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth who accused the Government of “playing Russian roulette with the national interest and putting people’s health at risk”.

Mr Ashworth said: “The fact that the Health Secretary is forced to make decisions over whether to prioritise medicine over food in the event of a Tory no-deal Brexit is simply astonishing.

“And it’s all the more irresponsible that Theresa May stubbornly refuses to rule out no deal.”

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, who was also quizzed by the committee on Monday, said no-deal contingency plans have been “activated”.

He said: “They involve in the first instance the work that the Department of Health and Social Care is leading with the medicines and devices supply chain, to size buffer stocks and then to ensure that the Department for Transport (DfT) knows the requirements that the NHS has.”

The NHS supply chain is “completely reliant” on DfT infrastructure, Mr Stevens added.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw asked Mr Hancock about his interview on Sunday with the BBC’s Andrew Marr.

He said: “Why did you say to Andrew Marr yesterday that you may have to consider curfews and martial law and emergency legislation to deal with some of these contingencies?”

Mr Hancock said: “There is no such thing as martial law in the UK, there is a Civil Contingencies Act (CCA).

“In the health department we look at the CCA. It is an option all the time for all sorts of considerations. We’re always planning for things we don’t want to happen.”

Asked by Mr Bradshaw “what on earth” his department will do if a no-deal Brexit interrupts services, he added: “If everybody does what they need to do then the continuity of supply of medicines will be in place no matter what the Brexit scenario.”

Earlier this month the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Niall Dickson, told the committee a no-deal Brexit would be a “real disaster” for the NHS.

The committee is looking at the NHS long-term plan which aims to save up to 500,000 lives through a focus on prevention and new technology.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Kirsty O’Connor / PA Wire.