UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that the National Health Service (NHS) is planning for every outcome under Brexit, including the possibility that the UK and the European Union do not agree on a trade deal.
In case of such an outcome, the NHS is already making plans to stockpile essential medical supplies, including blood and necessary medicines.
Hancock said that he has been meeting with medical leaders to “accelerate” developments and safeguard the NHS from any trade measures that could negatively affect the economy and the ability to import at an affordable cost.
In front of the Health Select Committee on Tuesday, July 24, he said that it is the sign of a “responsible government” to be aware of all scenarios that could occur when the UK leaves the EU next year, although he did acknowledge that the no-deal scenario is “unlikely”.
Hancock is relatively new to his post, only stepping in earlier this month to replace Jeremy Hunt, who moved up to Foreign Secretary to replace the resigned Boris Johnson. He has repeatedly said that he is looking to speed up the negotiating process to ensure that the “health sector and the industry are prepared”.
Hancock has confirmed that his priority is the health of the nation.
Aiming to secure “the chain of medical supplies, vaccines, medical devices, clinical consumables, blood products” and additional items, Hancock said that his department is looking to keep hold of a significant level of supplies to weather the impact of any economic storm that could arise post-Brexit.
The Health Secretary was also quick to point out that there is an obvious “cost implication” that comes with trying to secure many products, especially those that have a short shelf-life. These products would have to be flown in if port disputes take place, although Hancock hopes that there would still be smooth transit between ports in the event of no deal being reached.
When pressed on whether there is a need for patients to get themselves covered by a European Health Insurance Card or any extra insurance, Hancock thought himself “confident that we will be able to get a deal” with “mutual recognition” of some kind.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Justin Madders, the Shadow Health Minister, criticized the “government’s chaotic handling of Brexit”.
Madders said that “NHS patients and families need urgent reassurances” about what is going to happen to their treatments post-Brexit. He also lamented the government’s “failure to prioritize the NHS during Brexit negotiations”.
This uncertainty about the NHS comes as the new Brexit Minister Dominic Raab confirmed that the government is also planning to ensure that there is an “adequate food supply” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking to the Brexit Select Committee on Tuesday, Raab said that the actual work to secure food supplies would not stem from the government itself but from industry. He also said that the idea that “we only get food imports into this country from one continent is not appropriate”.
With £3bn (AUD $5.32bn) already being set aside by the Chancellor to allow for Brexit contingency planning, it seems clear that the UK is ready to walk away from all talks with the European Union if they cannot reach a trade deal. Many sticking points are still outstanding.
The UK has repeatedly said that it is aiming to reach a withdrawal deal by October.