A no-deal Brexit could lead to planes flying in drugs and medicines being given priority at the UK’s gridlocked ports, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Chemists could also be asked to ration drugs to guarantee sick people can access vital medicines, the minister said on Friday as questions intensified over how prepared Britain was for crashing out of the bloc.
It comes as The Times reported that a consultation launched by the Department for Health and Social Care called for rapid changes to medicine rules to “support the continuity of supply of medicines in a ‘no-deal’ scenario”.
The government wants to enable ministers to issue a “serious shortage protocol” for pharmacies to follow, the newspaper said.
It “could be issued in case of a serious national shortage and would enable community pharmacists and other dispensers to dispense in accordance with the protocol rather than the prescription without contacting the GP”.
Ministers would order pharmacists to dispense a “reduced quantity” of the medicine, an “alternative dosage form”, a “therapeutic equivalent” or a “generic equivalent”.
Hancock told BBC Radio 4′s Today that “this is something we are consulting on” and “it’s about having the appropriate clinical flexibility”.
He also argued it was vital for MPs to back Theresa May’s Brexit plan in the crunch December 11 vote, to avoid a no-deal outcome.
He said the government consultation was about “making sure that the rules are aligned to what is best practice, to make sure that if there is, on any individual area – whether it is to do with Brexit or not – if there is a shortage of an individual drug, that pharmacists can make their clinical and professional judgements”.
In a separate letter from Hancock to the pharmaceutical industry, he also warned that a no-deal Brexit could lead to six months of chaos on key cross-Channel routes.
Ferries between Dover and Calais and traffic using the Channel Tunnel could be disrupted until the end of September 2019.
He said: “Although we cannot know exactly what each member state will do with respect to checks on the EU border, the cross-Government planning assumptions have been revised so we can prepare for the potential impacts that the imposition of third country controls by member states could have.
“These impacts are likely to be felt mostly on the short straits crossings into Dover and Folkestone, where the frequent and closed loop nature of these mean that both exports and imports would be affected.
“The revised cross-Government planning assumptions show that there will be significantly reduced access across the short straits, for up to six months.
“This is very much a worst-case scenario; however, as a responsible Government, we have a duty to plan for all scenarios. ”
Hancock insisted that his department was “on track” with arrangements for a no-deal Brexit.
But he added: “The deal allows us to both deliver on the referendum result but do so in a way that allows both the economy to function but also these logistical problems not to arise.”
As part of the plans “we are working on ensuring that we have aviation capacity”, he said.
Asked if that would mean chartering planes to fly in medicines, he said: “We are working on exactly how we are going to do that, but that is part of the work we are doing.”
Hancock added that there had been work to fast-track lorries containing medical supplies through ports such as Dover if there were problems.
“If there is serious disruption at the border we will have prioritisation, and prioritisation will include medicines and medical devices,” he said.
The government was also “buying a large collection of refrigeration units so that those drugs that can be stockpiled, we will have a stockpile of,” Hancock said.