NHS chief confirms no-deal Brexit plan to ship medicines into UK

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The chief executive of NHS England has confirmed that the UK Government is drawing up plans to ship medicines and medical equipment into Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Simon Stevens revealed there was “significant planning” underway at the Department of Health to ensure supplies including medicines and blood plasma do not run low if the UK fails to get a Brexit deal.

It comes amid growing speculation that the UK could crash out of the EU without a deal, as the Cabinet remains deadlocked over what sort of future relationship to seek with Brussels and time runs out to get a negotiated settlement.

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Mr Stevens said a no-deal Brexit was not “a desirable situation” for the NHS, but added that he had been working with the government to ensure the supply of medicines and equipment continues in "any Brexit scenario".

In October, Mr Stevens told the Commons health select committee that the NHS had not been asked by the Government to examine the potential impact of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal in place.

Mr Stevens told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: "There is immediate planning which the health department, with other parts of Government, are undertaking around securing medicine supply and equipment under different scenarios.

"That will obviously crystallise when it's clear later this autumn what the UK's position will be."

He added: "Nobody's in any doubt whatsoever that top of the list in terms of ensuring continued supplies for all the things that we need in this country right at the top of the list has got to be those medical supplies."

Mr Stevens also said that every hospital in England had been asked to "reach out" to EU nationals working for the service.

But he claimed that new medical schools being opened in England would increase the number of home-grown doctors by 25% in a bid to offset a decline in EU nationals working in the NHS. In total, 60,000 NHS employees across the UK come from EU countries.

He said: "Every hospital has now been written to asking them to reach out to their staff from the rest of the EU, providing that the Home Secretary has set a clear process by which people can apply to stay in this country which we hope they will do."

Theresa May will assemble her cabinet at Chequers on Friday in a bid to get agreement on the post-Brexit customs and trade arrangements the UK will implement.

Also appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire said the government was preparing for "all eventualities".

"We don't want to see a no deal and I believe that is an option that can be very firmly avoided, which is why Friday matters, and getting into those negotiations and getting what we all want, which is that positive deal for the EU, for ourselves and ensuring we have that stability into the future," he added.

In her first interview since being appointed to Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet as Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman said Brexit was the “number one threat” to the NHS in Scotland.

"There are two big worries,” Ms Freeman told the Sunday Mail. “One is the nature of trade deals that are put into the mix when we leave the EU.

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"It could be they want to open up the NHS for private enterprise, and though our NHS is separate, it's difficult to resist that if challenged.

"The other huge challenge is the free movement of workers. That's not just about the nurses on our wards, it's also about the quality of our research.

"We attract consultants and senior doctors from around Europe because they want to benefit from the quality of our health service and also the quality of research happening between our hospitals and universities."