Brexit could 'threaten supply of medical equipment'

19 December 2018

MPs have warned that urgent action must be taken to assess the risks of Brexit on the supply of medical equipment and patient care.

In a report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) expressed concern over failure by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to assess the potential risks of Brexit on health bodies and communicate these with NHS providers. The PAC said there could be “serious” consequences for patients.

According to the report, the NHS currently procures 56% of all medical consumables such as gloves, syringes and dressings, from or via the European Union and while the DHSC aims to build a six-week stockpile of medicines and goods to mitigate potential supply issues after 29 March, disruption to the supply of larger medical items such as X-ray machines has not been taken into consideration.

The department also confirmed it is not putting specific contingency measures in place for the stockpiling of equipment.

The committee said continuing uncertainties surrounded the UK’s arrangements for after leaving the EU, with issues around medical supplies just one of the challenges the department must face.

As well as medical supplies, the report outlined concerns on the department’s financial sustainability, highlighting issues faced in the department from Brexit’s impact on staff recruitment and regional funding imbalances.

PAC chairman Meg Hillier MP said: “There are indicators of an under-pressure department at risk of losing its way. The department’s lack of clear Brexit planning could threaten the supply of medical equipment. Staff shortages could deepen. The potential consequences for patients are serious.”

The report found that DHSC had not yet communicated with NHS providers to detail the risks Brexit could pose to patient care, but confirmed it had issued advice to NHS trusts in October to perform contract reviews in order to identify potential Brexit risks.

The PAC recommends the department outlines details of the impact of Brexit on the supply of medical equipment and necessary contingencies by 31 January 2019.

Speaking to the BBC, health secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS would be prepared for disruption on critical supplies for up to six weeks and preparations are being made to handle the stockpiling of perishable medical goods. He stated he had become the “largest buyer of fridges in the world”.

“Those tenders have been successfully completed and in combination we are buying and building refrigeration capacity to make sure we have enough for medicines,” he added.

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