Leaving the EU: Health and Social Care — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:44 am on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 10:44 am, 19th March 2019

There are so many issues that I could tackle in the next three minutes. However, as the hon. Gentleman will have seen, the long-term plan has ambitions to ensure that there are new routes into nursing and that there are extra doctor training places. I said in response to the hon. Member for Strangford that we have commissioned Baroness Harding to start a workforce implementation plan. I assure the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute that driving down the number of vacancies is a priority for the Government. However, he will recognise that several of those vacancies are not necessarily unfilled posts, because they are usually filled by staff from the temporary staff bank. We need to be clear about what we are talking about. Recruitment into our national health service and our social care system is absolutely a key priority.

My Department has overall responsibility, on behalf of the devolved Administrations, for ensuring the continuity of supply of medicines and medical products. All supply arrangements take into account the whole of the United Kingdom. We have had significant support from, have given reassurance to and are constantly working with the pharmaceutical industry, the whole of the medical supply industry, clinicians and patients, and I am delighted to say that last week we held a roundtable with the devolved Administrations, so that their concerns could be listened to and directly addressed.

Several Members commented on stockpiling. We recognise that if we leave the EU without a deal, the medical supply chain will come under a lot of pressure. Around three quarters of the medicines and more than half the clinical consumables that we use come from the EU. Since last August we have been working with the industry to ensure that, before 29 March, there is at least an additional six weeks of stock over and above the usual buffer stocks in the UK.

We have also advised companies that if they are likely to face difficulties in their supply routes, there are ways of bringing in supplies outside the normal short straits route, either by using existing services or by making use of the additional capacity that the Government have procured. We are reliant on transport and freight being re-routed, but I am confident that, if everyone—including suppliers, freight companies, the health and care system and international partners, all of whom we have worked with since last August—does what they need to do and have committed to doing, the supply of medicines and other medical products will be uninterrupted.

I had intended to deliver a rather longer speech this morning, but I thought it was important to try to answer directly the questions put to me by hon. Members. There is no doubt that many areas of the health and care system will be directly affected by EU exit. We do not have time to address those today. However, it is important that the country knows that the Government are committed to ensuring that, whether we leave with or without a deal, we have in place the contingency plans needed to meet those challenges.