In Brief

Would people really die in a no-deal Brexit?

Britain’s outgoing chief medical officer issues stark warning as exit deadline looms

A no-deal Brexit could result in patients dying for lack of medicine, the outgoing Chief Medical Officer for England has said.

In what HuffPost UK describes as “the starkest warning yet about the consequences of crashing out of the EU on 31 October”, Professor Dame Sally Davies said medical supplies could not be guaranteed if the UK fails to reach an agreement with Brussels by the end of the month.

Last week NHS Wales unveiled a so-called “Brexit Warehouse” to store about 1,000 extra products, including medical gloves, needles and dressings. However, speaking to the BBC, Davies said despite the work being done to prepare for no-deal, “we cannot guarantee that there will not be shortages, not only in medicines but technology and gadgets and things. And there may be deaths, we can’t guarantee there won’t.”

Leaked documents from the government’s own no-deal Brexit planning, Operation Yellowhammer, revealed that the supply chains for medicines and products were “particularly vulnerable” to disruption at the Channel ports, through which roughly three-quarters of the 37 million medicine packs that arrive into the UK every month pass.

Of the 12,300 medicines currently licensed for use in the UK, around 7,000 come to Britain either from or through the EU, “with the vast majority being shipped across the Channel”, says the Daily Mirror.

Metro says “while some medicinal products can be stockpiled, those with a short shelf-life cannot”. These include insulin and cancer drugs for children, many of which need to be transported under temperature-controlled conditions, putting them at risk from protracted delays at UK ports.

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In August, health union leaders issued a stark warning that a no-deal Brexit could “devastate” the NHS. The Independent says the union leaders’ statement “echoes a letter written to Boris Johnson from the heads of 17 royal colleges and charities, expressing their concern at medicine shortages, which would clash with the start of winter flu season if the UK crashed out of the EU on 31 October”.

Concerns over the impact of no deal led to a Twitter campaign last month. Using the #deathbybrexit hashtag, people who rely on EU-derived medicines added a black dot to their Twitter name to show the government that lives are at risk.

Away from the immediate disruption to the medicine supply chain caused by no deal, a hard form of Brexit is likely to have serious medium and long-term consequences for the UK’s health and science sectors.

More than 62,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals, accounting for 5.6% of staff, and “there are concerns over both recruiting and retaining staff once freedom of movement ends”, says Metro. The NHS is already short of more than 100,000 personnel, including 43,000 nurses.

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