Thank you for contacting me about the supply of medicines in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
I continue to believe that the best possible way for us to leave the European Union is with a deal. I have expressly voted three times for a deal and will continue to make the case for a compromise agreement. However, preparations have been made for all eventualities. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced £2.1 billion to support no deal preparations with £1.1 billion available immediately and a further £1 billion available if required.
I am glad to hear that Ministers have had excellent engagement with industry and I have been assured that if everyone does what they are supposed to, the supply of medicines to the UK in the event of a no deal exit will be uninterrupted. During questions with the BBC, the Prime Minister was asked whether he could guarantee people will get their medicines under no deal, which he replied, “That is certainly a guarantee that we can make.”
Following the change of EU exit date, the Department of Health and Social Care has written to all medicine suppliers asking that they continue preparations for all negotiation outcomes. I am glad that the Department for Health and Social Care has worked closely with industry to ensure an uninterrupted supply of medicines and medical products in the event of a no deal exit from the EU. I believe that this is important in order to minimise the risk of disruption. Ministers have also announced a £25 million express freight service to deliver small parcels of medicines and medical products on a 24-hour basis and larger pallets on a 2- to 4-day basis. Temperature-controlled products will be delivered by express freight if required and work continues to ensure that medicines imported from the EU with a short shelf-live, such as radioisotopes, can be imported by air in a no deal scenario.
On the specific compatibility between the regulation you mention and the NHS England Commissioning Framework, a substitution will occur only if it is allowed under the serious shortage protocol. There is no automatic generic substitution of branded medicines by pharmacies. The protocol itself will be developed with, and signed off by, clinicians who will take into account any risks to patients. It will set out the alternatives medicines that can be dispensed, over what period and for which patients.
In addition, pharmacists would retain the professional discretion to decide whether to issue a medicine against the shortage protocol or refer a patient back to a medical practitioner for a prescription.
The Government has also been clear that it wants EU nationals currently working in the NHS to stay in this country after we leave the EU. After the country leaves the EU, the UK will set its own immigration policy, but the Department of Health and Social Care will ensure that there is sufficient staff to continue delivering high quality services.
The precise detail on future healthcare arrangements will be a matter for the future partnership negotiations but the Government has been clear that there should be continued participation in the EHIC scheme after the UK leaves the EU. In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, my ministerial colleagues have proposed maintaining existing healthcare arrangements, including an EHIC type arrangement, until 31 December 2020 in order to minimise disruption.
I hope that this reassures you and thank you again for contacting me.