Whitehall working with islands to ensure medical supplies are not disrupted

ROBUST plans – that include Guernsey – to mitigate potential medical supply disruption at the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period are in place, a Whitehall official has said.

Brexit (28974457)
Brexit (28974457)

Steve Oldfield, chief commercial officer at the UK Department of Health & Social Care, said his department was working more closely than ever with the Crown Dependencies, the devolved UK administrations and other key bodies in the supply chain.

But he acknowledged that the government’s ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ indicated the most significant disruption could occur in the first three months of 2021 on the critical ‘short straits’ route between the UK and mainland Europe.

‘While this is not a forecast or a prediction, this emphasises the need for the department to continue to work with you to implement the “multi-layered approach” to mitigate against the risk of supply disruption,’ he said in a letter to medicines and medical product suppliers to update them on contingency planning. Our contingency planning covers all four nations of the UK, as well as the Crown Dependencies. Our plans are joined up and considered alongside seasonal pressures on the health and care system, including the response to the coronavirus, and put patient safety at the heart of everything we do.’

He also said: ‘The government’s formal negotiations with the European Union (EU) are ongoing.

‘While the UK government will continue its efforts to secure a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU, we must now step-up preparations for a scenario where a negotiated outcome with the EU is not reached.

‘I must also stress that an FTA would not remove any of the requirements to act now to prepare for new customs and border processes. As businesses and sponsors of clinical trials and investigations, please take this moment to ensure that you are doing all you can to prepare.’

The official highlighted how new border and customs procedures will apply for all goods entering the UK from the EU at 11pm on 31 December – with the UK implementing controls in a staged approach to reduce potential disruption at the border.

But the UK government did not have control over checks that EU member states impose at their borders.

The ‘biggest potential cause of disruption’ could be traders not ready for controls implemented by EU member states on 1 January 2021, said Mr Oldfield.

Traders – both in the UK and EU – not completing the right paperwork would face having goods stopped when entering the EU and disruption occurring.

‘Therefore, it is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities.’

Mr Oldfield also highlighted capacity procured by the government for all health supplies within a section about alternative routes.

‘For those companies and sponsors arranging their own alternative routes, modelling indicates that there is unlikely to be significant, sustained disruption to other high volume roll on roll off (RoRo) routes between Great Britain and the EU, although there is a risk of some queues and delays around key ports if significant proportions of unready HGVs arrive at ports and need to be turned away,’ he added.

‘Government is working with local resilience forums to ensure proportionate plans are stood up to manage any congestion.’

[blob] UK health and social minister Jo Churchill has also stressed close working with Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man in relation to supply chains.

‘The department, in consultation with the devolved administrations and the Crown Dependencies, is working with trade bodies, product suppliers, and the health and care system to help ensure continued supply of medicines and medical products, to the whole of the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period,’ she said in response to a question from SNP MP Angus MacNeil.

‘As set out in a letter from the department to industry of 17 November, we are implementing a multi-layered approach, that involves asking suppliers of medicines, vaccines and other medical products to the UK from or via the European Union to get trader ready, reroute their supply chains away from any potential disruption and stockpile on UK soil where this is possible.’

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