An “express freight service” will help transport urgent medicines into the country when the UK leaves the EU, the government has announced.
The £25 million contract will help ensure continuity of supply after Brexit – regardless of whether this takes place with or without a deal, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
It will allow small parcels of medicines and products to be delivered within 24 hours, with the potential for larger quantities to be moved within two to four days.
It can also deliver temperature controlled products if needed, the DHSC added.
The government has issued an invitation to tender for potential providers wanting to bid for the contract, which will run for at least 12 months.
It did not specify what form the transport could take.
Health Minister Chris Skidmore said: “I want to ensure that when we leave the EU at the end of October, all appropriate steps have been taken to ensure frontline services are fully prepared.
“That’s why we are stepping up preparations and strengthening our already extremely resilient contingency plans.
“This express freight service sends a clear message to the public that our plans should ensure supply of medical goods remains uninterrupted as we leave the EU.”
The contract may be extended for a further year, the DHSC said, adding that the total cost to the tax payer would be around £4m. Any interested providers have until 21 August to submit proposals and the successful bidder will be announced in September.
The government has been urging pharmaceutical companies to stockpile six weeks’ worth of essential medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Critics of no-deal say Britain’s reliance on the EU to import drugs and medical equipment could ramp up costs and cause issues in the supply chain.
Mark Dayan, policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust, said: “These drastic plans to get urgent medical supplies into the UK for a year after a no-deal Brexit show the scale of disruption the government is preparing for. In the circumstances, this new service is a good idea.
“But the delays and extra paperwork that Brexit without an agreement will cause will still be there when the plane lands or the train rolls in.
“There will be complicated new processes for customs and gaining permission to use these services.
“Companies and suppliers will have to reroute all their supply lines overnight.
“Any teething problems that result will have a sharp impact on care as vital supplies that can’t last more than a few days become useless.”
Meanwhile yesterday Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary urged the UK government not to withdraw from a number of EU committees and working groups.
In a letter to Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Stephen Barclay, Fiona Hyslop said leaving them would “surrender any ability to influence EU business” despite still currently being a member.
Ms Hyslop made clear the Scottish Government would “object in the strongest possible terms” to the removal of the UK from such meetings and groups.
The UK is expected to leave the European Union on 31 October but a Brexit deal is yet to be agreed by MPs.