London: Britain's government watchdog says there is still a "significant amount" of work to do to make sure the country has an adequate supply of licensed drugs in case of a no-deal Brexit.
In a report issued Friday, Britain's National Audit Office said additional shipping capacity chartered by the UK for sending goods across the English Channel might not be operational until the end of November one month after the October 31 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union.
Of the more than 12,300 medicines licensed in the UK, about 7,000 arrive from or via the EU, mostly across the Channel.
Meg Hillier, who chairs a committee overseeing the audit office, called the findings "deeply concerning." She said she had seen "countless examples" of the British government missing deadlines, but that this one was particularly striking.
"If the government gets this wrong, it could have the gravest of consequences," she said.
According to the British government's "reasonable worst-case" scenario, the flow of goods could be cut by half on Day One of a no-deal Brexit and could take a year to recover.
It said time was "extremely limited" if the shipping issues were to be resolved by the end of October.
Steve Bates, CEO of UK' s Bioindustry Association, said that unlike the last Brexit deadline March 31 the government has given companies much less information about alternative routes in case a no-deal Brexit results in jammed ports.
"Last time, we knew which ferry services had been commissioned on alternative routes with pharmaceutical companies encouraged to book space to ship their products," he told reporters last week.
"But the same approach has not been adopted this time." The audit report also said there was "incomplete information" about the levels of medicine stockpiling but that levels were increasingly daily.
As of September 20, suppliers reported that 72 per cent of medicines had a six-week stockpile.
"In the event of a no-deal exit, the department (of health) would be working in a highly uncertain environment and operating all the elements of its plan would be a hugely demanding task," the watchdog wrote.
Alan Boyd, of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said drug shortages happen every month even without Brexit and the department of health typically issues a list of affected medicines and in some cases, suggests possible alternatives.
He said the group was also concerned that a no-deal Brexit would mean that Britain would be kicked out of a Europe-wide program to identify counterfeit medicines.
"The department of health will put its own system in place, but that will likely take a few years before it's up and running," he said.
Dr Richard Torbett of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said that while companies have been working to prepare for Brexit, "some things are outside of their control." He said more details were needed on how companies might access government-planned freight capacity if Britain sees a no-deal departure from the EU.
"Securing a (Brexit) deal remains the best way to protect patients," he said.