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No-deal Brexit could close down practices, says RCGP chair

The non-pharmaceutical supply chain post-Brexit must be addressed by the Government or it could risk the closure of practices ‘up and down the country’, according to the RCGP chair.

Speaking at the Labour party conference fringe meeting on NHS in a post-Brexit world, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard voiced her concerns about the supply chain of basic non-medical supplies in general practice. 

She said in her practice in the Midlands, she worries about products such as printer paper running out, which could lead to surgery closures and asked the panel for answers.

She said: ‘My challenge and question to the panel is not about pharmaceuticals, it’s about the non-pharmaceuticals supply chain. We’ve 12,500 medicines and we’ve got twice that number of non-medicine supplies.

‘In my own practice in the Midlands, I worry that the printer paper will run out, the cartridges, the lights will go out, the disinfectant will run out. And it’s those things that will close our practices up and down the country. If the surgeries close, the hospitals will fall over.’

Labour MP Jon Ashworth responded by saying the Government must address this or it would ground not just the NHS, but a ‘whole raft of other services’ to a halt.

He said: ‘It’s a really strong point and I’ve actually spent time shadowing you in your practice. Obviously we’re focusing on medicines but we do need to be reassured by the Government there is a plan for these basic things, which will actually be grounding not just the NHS, but a whole raft of other services to a halt.

‘Another issue is hospital catering and food supplies that are going to be a huge challenge. I just hope the government does have a plan in place.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard told Pulse that the RCGP does not want to ‘create panic’ but she is not hearing a narrative about non-pharmaceuticals.

She added: ‘For every medicine prescription, there are twice as many things that we use in the NHS that are non-medicine related and I’m not hearing a narrative about that and I’m trying to call that out.

‘We don’t want to create panic, that helps nobody, but we do need practices up and down the country thinking about their basic supplies of non-medical products as well as medical products. Are they stocked up on, for example, prescription paper, toner cartridges, disinfectant?

‘Actually rubber gloves come under medical devices, but there’s a fine line here between knowing these things and understanding your own supply chain. If it’s printer paper, you might be able to go across the road to Tescos to buy a package. If it’s prescription punting which comes from somewhere else, is our supply chain secure? I don’t know the answer to that. I hope somebody does.’

The Department of Health and Social Care has worked with the NHS Business Service Authority, who holds the contract for prescription paper, to ensure stockpiles are in place from the supplier. 

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We want to reassure the public we are doing everything we can and working closely with partners across the health and care system and industry to prepare for Brexit on 31 October, whatever the circumstances.

‘As part of our extensive contingency planning, we have been engaging with suppliers of non-clinical goods and services, including food, maintenance services and prescription paper to ensure patients continue to receive the same high standard of care.’