The British government has urged medicine suppliers to prepare for the country’s exit from the EU single market and customs union on 31 December by building up six weeks’ worth of stocks in case of disruption to imports.
Under the terms of an ongoing transition period, customs and border arrangements have remained unchanged since Britain left the European Union on 1 January, but new checks are expected to come into force when the transition ends on 31 December.
“We recognise that global supply chains are under significant pressure, exacerbated by recent events with COVID-19,” the health ministry said in a letter to medicine suppliers which it published on Monday.
“However, we encourage companies to make stockpiling a key part of contingency plans, and ask industry, where possible, to stockpile to a target level of six weeks’ total stock on UK soil.”
Britain and the EU are negotiating the terms of a new free trade agreement, but it is not clear whether a deal will be agreed and implemented before the 31 December deadline, reviving fears of a disruptive “hard Brexit”.
The government letter outlined the multiple pressures that the National Health Service (NHS) would be facing by winter.
“The ongoing pandemic, gradual resumption of NHS activity, and seasonal pressures, mean we must prepare thoroughly for the end of the transition period,” it said.
To ensure continuity of patient care, medicine suppliers should prepare to reroute freight away from potential disruption points, especially the crossings between Dover and Folkestone on the English side and Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk in France.
“Companies are encouraged to review their own logistics arrangements and consider making plans for avoiding the short straits as a matter of priority,” the letter said.
The health ministry stood ready to support companies with their plans if needed.
The ministry said it had built up a centralised stock of fast-moving medical devices and clinical consumables in the run-up to the exit from the EU on 31 January.
“Some of this stock remains and accounting for likely demand trends for the time of year, we plan to build these levels back up to a target level of six weeks’ total stock,” it said.