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Leaving the EU: Contingency Planning

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 19 February 2019

7. What progress his Department has made on contingency planning for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (909307)

17. What progress his Department has made on contingency planning for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (909319)

Leaving the EU with a deal remains the Government’s top priority, but we are preparing for every eventuality. I am confident that if everyone does what they need to do, the supply of medicines will continue unhindered.

Will the Secretary of State say how much has already been spent since the NHS no-deal contingency plans were active, and what the overall bill will be?

Yes. About £11 million has been spent already. The NHS is not generally buying the extra medicines that are going into the elongated stockpiles, but the pharmaceutical industry is. We will of course eventually buy most of those medicines for the NHS. There have been costs to the pharmaceutical industry as well, but the cost so far to the taxpayer is £11 million. I expect it will remain at about that level, or a little higher.

Some of my constituents with diabetes have contacted me about supplies of insulin. Will the Secretary of State give us an insulin-specific answer?

Yes. Whereas across all medicines we have requested that the pharmaceutical industry has an extra six weeks of supplies in case of a no-deal Brexit, in the case of insulin the two major providers have already made stockpiles of at least double that. That shows that those with concerns about access to insulin can know that the plans we have in place for insulin are being enacted even more strongly than elsewhere.

But the Secretary of State is refusing to provide any reassurance to constituents up and down the country, and particularly to my constituents. I got an email yesterday from a constituent—I have no shame in quoting this—who said:

“I have type 1 diabetes, as does Theresa May, and the supplies of insulin, needles and blood testing equipment all come from Europe. Insulin is perishable. Without it, so am I.”

Will the Secretary of State come to the Dispatch Box and say to my constituents that, whichever disease they have and whichever medical supplies they require, they will get them even if we leave the European Union with no deal? Would not the best thing to do be just to rule out no deal?

I have already given the assurance that if everybody does what they need to do, I am confident that supplies will be unhindered. In the case of insulin, the stockpiles are already double what we requested. However, on the point about the deal, the hon. Gentleman has a really important point about ruling out no deal being the best thing for people’s supply of medicines. He knows as well as I do that if we want to rule out no deal, we need to vote for a deal, so he and everybody in this House should vote for the deal.

The serious shortage protocol statutory instrument would allow pharmacists to dispense alternative drugs when there is short supply, but, crucially, without consulting a GP. The problem is that they cannot access patients’ records and might dispense a drug that has previously caused serious side effects. Is the Secretary of State really expecting such extensive shortages that phoning a GP will be impractical?

This change is to respond to the shortages that happen from time to time regularly in the NHS. Given that the supply of 12,300 drugs is typical across the NHS, there are always some logistical challenges. This protocol is to try to ensure that we can respond to those challenges as well as possible. Pharmacists are highly trained in what they do and perfectly able to carry this out as proposed.

The problem is that the key issue is not consulting the GP. The medical legal responsibility for any problems normally lies with the prescriber, yet the General Medical Council was not even consulted on this SI. Does the Secretary of State really think that such a significant change should be pushed through with a negative resolution and no scrutiny and debate?

Well, it is getting scrutiny and debate now. The change that is being proposed is about making sure we can get people the drugs they need. Of course the responsibility is on the pharmacist to ensure that it is the appropriate drug and, if necessary, that the GP is involved. However, it is absolutely right that we make changes to ensure that we have an unhindered supply of medicines whenever there are shortages—whether that is to do with Brexit or not.

The Secretary of the State spoke with his characteristic self-confidence about the supply of insulin, but at the end of last week Diabetes UK said that

“despite reaching out directly to the Department of Health…we still have not seen the concrete detail needed to reassure us…we cannot say with confidence that people will be able to get the insulin and other medical supplies they need in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

Why is Diabetes UK wrong and the Secretary of State right?

Diabetes UK is not a supplier of insulin. Of course, it plays an important role in representing those who have diabetes. We have given Diabetes UK reassurances, including, for instance, that the stockpiles we have for insulin are more than twice as long as we proposed and as required. That is an important assurance.

I hope the Secretary of State will contact Diabetes UK to give it those reassurances directly.

On the various no-deal medicines statutory instruments that the House will debate today and on other occasions, the Government’s own impact assessments say that, in a no-deal scenario, the NHS will pay more for drugs, UK firms will face more red tape, and NHS patients will go to the back of the queue when it comes to international innovation. Given that the consequences of no deal would be so devastating for the NHS, will the Secretary of State—as, apparently, the Justice Secretary will—resign from the Government if it means blocking no deal?

If the hon. Gentleman really cared about stopping no deal, he would vote for the deal. There is something else that is worth saying about this shadow Secretary of State. He is a reasonable man—he is a sensible man—and I like him. My politics are probably closer to his than his are to those of the leader of his party, so why does he not have the gumption to join his friends over there on the Back Benches in the Independent Group, instead of backing a hard-left proto-communist as leader of the Labour party?