The UK government is urging drugmakers to stockpile six weeks of medical supplies in the run-up to the end of the Brexit transition period later this year.
The department of health has written to medicine suppliers about “mitigating any potential disruption to supply into the UK,” including medicines, vaccines, clinical trial supplies and blood and transplant items.
The plea is a stark sign of the scale of the challenges facing the UK as decades of trade ties start to unwind when it leaves the EU’s single market, customs union and other smooth trading arrangements from 31 December.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has ruled out extending the transition period, despite negotiations over a new trade deal to replace it making limited progress with time running out. Failure to strike an agreement could result in enormous upheaval, and another round of costly stockpiling by UK organisations is likely in the coming months.
The letter acknowledges a large percentage of medical supplies in Britain come from the EU. It said securing capacity to reroute freight away from potential disruption points at the narrowest part of the English Channel should be the “first priority.”
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The government is also seeking to secure capacity itself to support the health and social care sector, and already has capacity for urgent movement of medicines and medical products.
The letter, published alongside updated guidance, says holding additional stock in the UK “provides a further buffer against some disruption,” and is a “valuable” part of contingency plans.
“We recognise that global supply chains are under significant pressure, exacerbated by recent events with COVID-19,” it said.
“However, we encourage companies to make stockpiling a key part of contingency plans, and ask industry, where possible, to stockpile to a target level of 6 weeks’ total stock on UK soil.”
A survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) last week found three-quarters of firms were concerned about a further economic shock if no trade agreement is struck with the EU. Preparations at many firms have stalled or even gone into reverse as they struggle to cope with the pandemic.
CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said at the time most firms had “neither the time nor the resources” to plan properly for yet more disruption.
“While many larger firms have long had plans in place for a no-deal outcome, smaller firms will struggle to cope with a double dose of disruption.
“Businesses on both sides are desperate for a deal that protects their economies at this most precarious of times,” she said.