Nuffield Trust said supplies of thousands of medicines were at risk of disruption without a trade deal © 123RF
Nuffield Trust said supplies of thousands of medicines were at risk of disruption without a trade deal © 123RF

Medical supply chain faces 'chaotic disruption' from no-deal Brexit

10 November 2017

Leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal would cause “extensive problems” for Britain's NHS and risk “chaotic disruption” to the medicine supply chain, according to an independent health charity. 

In its report, the Nuffield Trust said the NHS and its patients rely on products, innovations, staff and industries from the EU, which could be undermined in a no-deal Brexit scenario. 

“A scenario where the UK leaves without any deal would cause extensive problems for the NHS. It would risk chaotic disruption to supplies of medical products and a rise in prices that would push hospitals deeper into deficit,” it said.

“Many different parts of EU law and EU institutions play an important role in enabling care to be delivered to the standards we see today. Suddenly ending them with no replacement would do serious damage to an already strained British NHS.”

Pharmaceutical companies voiced similar concerns and said supplies of thousands of medicines were at risk of disruption without a trade deal.

More than 2,600 drugs have some stage of manufacture in Britain and 45m patient packs are supplied from the UK to other European countries each month, while another 37m flow in the opposite direction, according to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

EFPIA said a survey of its members showed 45% of companies expected trade delays if Britain and Europe fell back onto World Trade Organisation rules after Brexit.

Nathalie Moll, EFPIA director general, said strict medicine regulations meant manufacturers face multiple Brexit uncertainties, including the potential need to retest drugs shipped across borders and transferring product licences to different jurisdictions. 

“For life-saving and life-improving medicines, the EU and UK cannot afford to wait any longer to ensure that the necessary cooperation on medicines in place from the day the UK leaves the EU,” she said. 

Underlining wider implications of a no-Brexit deal on the NHS, the Nuffield Trust warned that a Brexit deal that did not guarantee the rights of tens of thousands of EU doctors and nurses would lead to worsening staff shortages in the NHS. 

Around 62,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals, 5.6% of all staff, according to NHS England.

Last week, SM revealed that the number of nurses and midwives leaving the profession over the last 12 months had risen at an “alarming” rate.

The number of nurses that joined the official register from the EU dropped dramatically from 10,178 in 2016 to 1,107 this year, a decrease of 89%. The number of EU midwives fell by 67%, according to the Royal College of Midwives.

Responding to the report, a government spokeswoman said EU workers right would remain a priority during Brexit negotiations but stressed that it would also focus on “home-grown” staff.

“The future of EU nationals is a top priority in the Brexit negotiations and we want their valued contribution to the NHS to continue,” she said.

“However, the NHS also needs more home-grown staff, which is why we recently announced the biggest ever increase in training places for both doctors and nurses. 

“We are fully committed to continuing to close working relationship with our European partners and will continue to collaborate with the EU so that patients in the UK and across the EU continue to access the best and most innovative medicines available.”

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