Exiting the EU: supplying the health and social care sectors

27 Sep 2019 12:31 PM

There is a risk of delays to supplies for health and social care if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Government has done an enormous amount to manage this risk, but the National Audit Office (NAO) highlights that there is still significant work to be done. This includes improving government’s understanding of preparedness across the supplier base, putting in place sufficient freight capacity to carry priority goods, and improving the readiness of the social care sector, including nursing homes.

In its report, published today, the NAO has reviewed the Department for Health & Social Care’s (DHSC’s) preparations to make sure the UK has a steady flow of supplies for the health and social care sector when it leaves the EU. Of the 12,300 medicines used in the UK, DHSC estimates that around 7,000 come from or via the EU.

The NAO recognises that this is a significant challenge and it is is not possible for anyone to know exactly what will happen at the border if the UK leaves without a deal.

Government’s own “reasonable worst case” assumption is that the flow of goods across the Channel could be reduced to 40-60 per cent of current levels on day one. This assumption underpins DHSC’s preparations to try to avoid disruption. It has identified high risk areas and taken steps to respond. It has taken a multi-layered approach, focusing on three areas.  

Building up stockpiles and obtaining space in warehouses

Re-routing supplies to avoid busy crossings, procuring additional freight capacity and preparing suppliers

Increasing DHSC’s ability to monitor the situation and respond.

Notes for Editors

Key facts

7,000 out of 12,300
the number of prescription-only and over-the-counter medicines that come from or via the EU

the assumed capacity on the first day at ports serving the short Channel crossings compared with current flows, under the government’s reasonable worst-case scenario

number of heavy goods vehicle spaces per week that the Department of Health & Social Care has asked the Department for Transport for, as part of the government-secured freight capacity.

number of types of medical devices and clinical consumables -such as needles, syringes and stethoscopes - available to the NHS each year

£95 million
value of planned additional stockpile of high-volume clinical consumables, £85 million of which was in place by 20 September

proportion of government secured additional freight capacity earmarked for priority supplies to the health and social care sectors

percentage of medicine product lines for which suppliers had reported to the Department of Health & Social Care (by 20 September) that they had secured freight capacity away from the short Channel crossings.

percentage of medicine product lines for which suppliers had reported to the Department by 20 September that they held at least 6 weeks’ stock.

  1. The NHS supplies medicines for people in social care, but social care providers also rely on non-medicine supplies that are not usually bought via the NHS.
  2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.
  3. Our EU exit hub draws together all of our work on departments’ performance on EU exit to-date. It is updated as we publish work and report to Parliament on risks to preparedness. Available here: https://www.nao.org.uk/exiting-the-eu/
  4. The National Audit Office (NAO) helps Parliament hold government to account for the way it spends public money. It is independent of government and the civil service. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Gareth Davies, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether government is delivering value for money on behalf of the public, concluding on whether resources have been used efficiently, effectively and with economy. The NAO identifies ways that government can make better use of public money to improve people's lives. It measures this impact annually. In 2018 the NAO's work led to a positive financial impact through reduced costs, improved service delivery, or other benefits to citizens, of £539 million.


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