No-deal Brexit a risk to NHS and care sector, NAO says
The National Audit Office has said in a report that leaving the EU without a deal will pose risks to the NHS and care sector in spite of the government’s existing contingency plans.
The report was published after efforts from MPs to prevent a no-deal Brexit in October, which culminated in the "Benn bill" legislation, requiring the prime minister to seek an extension to the October 31 Brexit deadline if a deal cannot be agreed or endorsement for no-deal is not granted by October 19.
The NAO report acknowledged the government’s “enormous amount of work” thus far in planning for a possible no-deal Brexit but warned of “significant” shortcomings.
Labour MP Meg Hillier called the report “deeply concerning”.
The report indicates there is no clear indication that the care sector is sufficiently prepared for the consequences of no-deal and expresses concern that the government has not provided enough support to it.
The government has taken charge of stockpiling supplies for the NHS and purchased additional shipping capacity to allow more medicines to be brought into UK ports, but this may not be ready to operate by the October 31 Brexit deadline.
Although the supply of medicines for the NHS and care sectors has been arranged, the care sector relies on 24,000 different companies to provide its services and no government arrangement has been forthcoming for the stockpiling of other key equipment and supplies, the majority of which come from or via EU states.
In excess of 12,000 medicines are used by the NHS, with roughly 7,000 of these passing through the EU.
Hillier, who also chairs the cross-party Public Accounts Committee said: "I've seen countless examples of deadlines missed and government failing. If government gets this wrong, it could have the gravest of consequences.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "We want to reassure patients we are doing everything we can.”
The spokesperson added that the response from both government and industry was “unprecedented” and stockpiles are “increasing by the day”.
It is unknown as to the exact levels of supplies which have already been stockpiled, but the report does confirm that the government has successfully stored a six weeks’ worth supply of drugs, with further arrangements to fast-track emergency supplies into the UK.
However, the range of drugs that can be stockpiled is restricted by some medicines having a short shelf-life.