Government's 'Yellowhammer' plan for no-deal Brexit confirms NHS fears

Medicine shortages and an even tougher winter than usual lie ahead for the NHS should the UK crash out of Europe with no deal, the government's Brexit contingency plans reveal.

Westminster (Photo: allinvisuality/Getty Images)
Westminster (Photo: allinvisuality/Getty Images)

The ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ paper, which the government was forced to publish after a defeat in parliament, outlines the ‘reasonable worst case’ plans for the UK should it fail to agree a deal with Europe before it leaves the EU.

The plans said that complications with the transportation of goods across the English Channel would likely cause delays of medical supplies.

With three quarters of these products arriving in the UK via the Port of Dover, the government added that medicine supplies would be ‘particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays’. 

The ‘Yellowhammer’ report estimated that disruption of goods transportation, including medicines, could last ‘up to six months’ and that, while some medical products could be stockpiled, it would not be possible for others due to ‘short shelf lives’.

This would include drugs, such as insulin and those containing radioisotopes, which are used by patients to maitain life. 

The government confirmed that the DHSC was developing ‘a multi-layered approach’ to mitigate these risks.

Disruption to the supply of medicines for UK veterinary use could also ‘reduce the country’s ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks’, which could eventually have a direct impact on human health, the government plan reveals.

It said that an inability to treat disease in animals would have ‘potential detrimental impacts’ on wider food safety and availability.

Brexit timing

Meanwhile, the government acknowledged that the timing of the country's departure from the EU, scheduled for 31 October, could further aggravate problems.

‘Concurrent risks associated with autumn and winter, such seasonal flu, could exacerbate a number of impacts and stretch resources of partners and responders,’ it said.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the document reinforced the association's warnings about the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

‘Here we see in black and white the government warning of disruption to vital medicine supplies [and] a higher risk of disease outbreaks due to veterinary medicine supply issues… if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

‘As we outlined just last week, the government also recognises how the timing of our exit will be key – coinciding with the beginning of winter, when the NHS experiences its most difficult period, a ‘no deal’ risks pushing health services to the brink.

‘Given what’s at stake, this document underlines why the government needs to entirely rule out ‘no deal’ and give the public a final say on Brexit.’

Winter pressure

The BMA had previously warned that a 'no deal' Brexit would 'make the disintegration of the NHS an ever more real prospect and highlighted key concerns over the NHS workforce, access to medicines, reciprocal healthcare arrangements and medical research.

Meanwhile, Dr Nagpaul said the publication of the government’s ‘no deal’ Brexit plans ‘vindicated’ those doctors who had spoken out about the risks of crashing out of the EU on the NHS.

Consultant neurologist Dr David Nicholl spoke out publicly about the risk to patient safety posed by leaving the EU without a deal and was criticised by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who accused him of scaremongering. 

The MP was later forced to apologise after comparing Dr Nicholl to discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield.

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