Insulin supply 'at risk' as pressure mounts on Hancock over no-deal Brexit

Supplies of insulin and other vital medicines may be at risk under a no-deal Brexit because the government has failed to provide 'concrete detail' of contingency plans, diabetes charities have warned.

Insulin warning (Photo:
Insulin warning (Photo:

Diabetes UK and diabetes research body JDRF have warned that they ‘cannot say with confidence’ whether items including insulin will remain unaffected in the event of a no-deal Brexit ‘based on the information currently available’.

In a joint statement, Diabetes UK chief executive Chris Askew and JDRF chief executive Karen Addington said: ‘With just a matter of weeks between now and 29 March and despite reaching out directly to the DHSC in December, we still have not seen the concrete detail needed to reassure us – or people with diabetes – that the UK government’s plans are robust enough to guarantee no impact on insulin and medicine supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

‘Insulin is a life-saving necessity for hundreds of thousands of people with diabetes, and any delay or interruption to access would be incredibly dangerous. The UK government must – with all urgency – produce the detail needed to reassure the public that it has robust systems and agreements in place to ensure this supply in the event of a no-deal Brexit.’

In response, a DHSC spokesperson said: 'All major suppliers of insulin have confirmed to the department that they have increased their buffer stocks to hold 16 weeks total supply before 29 March – far above the additional 6 weeks’ supply which government has asked industry to stock.'

No-deal Brexit

He added that the government had been 'working closely' with companies to ensure the supply of medicines could continue 'uninterrupted' in the event of a no deal EU Exit. This includes 'building stockpiles, providing additional warehousing space, and buying freight capacity on alternative ferry routes'.

The intervention from diabetes charities follows correspondence from the House of Lords EU home affairs subcommittee, published last month, calling on health and social care secretary Matt Hancock to ‘provide further information’ on Brexit preparations.

In the letter, committee chair Lord Jay of Ewelme gave Mr Hancock a 10-day window - the deadline for which passed earlier this week - to provide clarity on the supply of medicines and medical devices in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Details requested included:

  • When the government will contact suppliers of medicines and medical products to give them notice and guidance on rerouting their supplies.
  • Whether Public Health England is planning to stockpile vaccines and other products used for ‘urgent public health use’.
  • Whether there is a list of products other than vaccines that may need to be stockpiled for ‘urgent public health use’.
  • More detail on agreements between the UK and the EU to continue organ exchange after 29 March.
  • The impact on the UK of the EU’s policy position of clinical trials.
  • Details on the cost of flying in medical products for a six-week period.

Medicine supplies

The letter concluded: ‘Given that we are now just nine weeks away from leaving the EU with the increasing possibility of doing so without a deal, and noting the delayed response to our previous letter, we expect a response within 10 working days.’

Although a DHSC spokesperson told GPonline that a response had been sent, it has not yet been made public.

This comes amid concerns over a sharp rise in the number of common drugs becoming unavailable in recent months, which some GPs have speculated could be linked to Brexit.

Speaking at the time, a DHSC spokesperson said there was ‘no evidence’ that current medicine supply issues were linked to EU exit preparations, adding that any problems were probably ‘due to manufacturing or distribution issues’.

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