Health charities warn of ‘avoidable deaths’ if Brexit disrupts drug supplies

Scottish Government contingency plans for medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit must be published in full to help avert the risk of “avoidable deaths”, four health charities have warned.

Diabetes Scotland, Epilepsy Scotland, Marie Curie Scotland and the MS Society have united to call on ministers to disclose plans being worked on to avoid disruption to the supply, storage and distribution of drugs in Scotland if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Medicine supply is reserved to the UK Government but the charities said effective contingency plans for potentially life-saving drugs will depend on close collaboration between the relevant agencies and authorities.

Speaking on behalf of the four charities, Angela Mitchell, national director of Diabetes Scotland, said: “It’s less than four weeks until March 29 and people are telling us how anxious and concerned they are about the lack of clarity and detail.

“As leading patient voice charities, representing hundreds of thousands of people, we have a responsibility to articulate the very real worries and fears many have about the supply, distribution and storage of medicines in a no-deal Brexit.

“Insulin, for example, is a daily life-saving necessity for thousands of people with diabetes, and any delay or interruption to access would be incredibly dangerous.

“Anti-epileptic drugs are also a daily necessity for people with epilepsy.”

She said delays or changes to epilepsy drugs could trigger seizures and some people with the condition require emergency rescue medication, which she said is a “vital life-saving drug”.

She added: “Any interruption to supply raises serious concern and may result in avoidable deaths.

“There are many other drugs and medical supplies which are equally critical to health.

“We are urgently calling on the Scottish Government to produce the detail required to reassure the Scottish public that all relevant organisations involved in the supply, storage and local distribution of medicines in Scotland have robust systems and agreements in place.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said any threat to medicine supply is “completely unacceptable” and blamed the UK Government’s “reckless” Brexit approach.

She said: “Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU and the concerns raised in this statement clearly outline the profound and lasting impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on Scotland, causing severe damage to our NHS, harming patients and threatening our wider health services.

“We continue to urge the UK Government to end this uncertainty by completely ruling out a no-deal Brexit, removing this additional threat to medicines and medical supplies.

“We are working closely with NHS Scotland health boards to ensure they are as prepared as possible for all Brexit scenarios we might face.

“This includes ensuring supplies of medicines, devices and vaccines are protected.”

She said the practical and financial implications of a no deal Brexit are being “carefully considered” in discussion with key sectors such as the NHS and ports, which includes civil contingencies planning.

A UK Government spokesman said the priority is ensuring continued medical supplies for patients and it is committed to reaching a Brexit deal.

He said: “We are confident that if everyone – including suppliers, freight companies, international partners and the health and care system – does what they need to do, the supply of medicines and medical products should be uninterrupted in the event of exiting the EU without a deal.”

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