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No-deal Brexit could cause additional pressure during the flu season, PM warned

Doctors have warned the Prime Minister that a no-deal Brexit could exacerbate pressures on the NHS during flu season.

In a letter from the Royal College of Physicians and signed by 16 other medical royal colleges and charities, including the RCGP, doctors voiced their inability to ‘reassure patients that their health and care won’t be negatively impacted by the UK’s exit from the EU’.

The letter warned of medicine shortages, supply delays and called on the Prime Minister to plan for various flu scenarios. 

Pulse previously reported that the NHS is unable to guarantee a supply of medicines in the absence of a deal. 

The heads of the organisations, including RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, wrote: ‘The NHS is at the heart of a healthy society: it employs over 1.2 million people, and every year it dispenses more than one billion prescriptions, serves over 170 million meals, handles 4.7 million surgical admissions and provides over 400 million face-to-face appointments. If not properly planned for, even the smallest of problems could have huge consequences for the lives and wellbeing of millions of people and our economy.

‘The need for preparedness is compounded by the fact that we are scheduled to leave the EU, potentially on a no-deal basis, just as flu and the winter season begins. Even a ‘moderate’ flu season places significant additional pressure on the NHS. Your EU exit strategy must include provision for different flu scenarios, and the secretary of state is well placed to coordinate that.’

The NHS typically offers flu jabs from September, but delays this season mean some vaccines will not be delivered until the end of November.

It follows delays to the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation on flu vaccines, after they took more time to adjust the mutations to the key strains in circulation.

WHO said in March it had delayed this ‘to better understand the distribution and proportions of recently circulating antigenically and genetically diverse A(H3N2) viruses and to develop and fully characterize appropriate candidate vaccine viruses’.

As a result, supplier Sanofi Pasteur indicated proposals to phase some of the deliveries of the inactivated quadrivalent influenza vaccines for at-risk demographics, with some vaccines due to be delivered by the end of the November.

In light of this, Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England wrote to all GPs and community pharmacists in England

It follows supply delays last year which saw the Government temporarily suspend medicine movement regulations to enable practices to swap stocks between themselves and with pharmacies.

NHS Digital recently expected merely four in 10 GP practices to receive flu vaccination data electronically from pharmacies this autumn

Last winter, flu contributed to over 50,000 excess deaths in England and Wales, the highest recorded in over four decades.