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The Government is looking for additional storage space to be able to stockpile medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the health and social care secretary has revealed.
Speaking in front of the Health and Social Care Committee yesterday, Matt Hancock said that the Government has issued an invitation to tender (ITT) for additional storage space to stockpile medicines.
The extra space will be used to keep the medicines stockpiles that pharmaceutical companies have been asked to have to ensure that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will have access to an ‘additional six weeks’ supply of medicines’, the Government said in August.
Asked by committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston if he is confident patients will be able to access the medicines they need after Brexit, taking into account that it might take a year to build refrigerated warehouses, Mr Hancock said the storage they are looking for ‘is either additional storage that is ready for Brexit-related demand, or space that can be converted to medical storage.’
He said: ‘We are confident that it can be delivered in time for March next year, hence we are getting on with it even while we are proceeding with negotiations which I very much hope will lead to a deal [so there will be] no need for stockpiling.’
Tender in the ‘low tens of millions of pounds’
Mr Hancock added: ‘The ITT that has been published today will lead to costs that we expect to be in the low tens of millions of pounds to the taxpayers.’
However, he could not give a more precise figure because the Government is buying this space ‘from the market’ and will in some cases have to build new facilities, he said.
The costs, which Mr Hancock said he wants to be ‘as low as possible’, will be published at a later stage.
Six weeks of stockpiling not enough
In an earlier session yesterday, the committee heard that it would normally take longer than six months to create cold storage space.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry chief executive Mike Thompson said they are asking the Government to ‘press the button now’ given the length of time needed to have cold storage facilities ‘regulatory approved and authorised’.
He said: ‘I believe some of these things can be truncated, but we are very much up against the deadline now.’
Healthcare Distribution Association executive director Martin Sawer – whose body represents pharmaceutical businesses – said that his sector has not ‘seen the basis’ on which the six-week guidance was developed.
He added that it might take more than a year to get a cold storage unit up and running.
Mr Sawer said: ‘From my experience of pre-wholesale building capacity, they usually plan it for at least two years ahead of time, because they need to have regulatory approval from the MHRA.’
However, when questioned on the same issue, Mr Hancock said the Government advice is still focused on the six-week guidance and that it is possible to have cold storage space ready in less than a year – especially as the Government is considering using existing storage space that can be converted to medical storage.