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NHS stockpiling body bags in case of no-deal Brexit, health minister writes

The NHS is stockpiling body bags in an effort to minimise disruption after Britain leaves the EU, health minister Stephen Hammond has admitted.

The revelation came in a letter to a fellow MP, in which Mr Hammond said precautionary efforts were being made to ensure the supply of medical items was not disrupted following Brexit.

The Government is preparing for ‘all exit scenarios’ following the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of March, said Mr Hammond in the letter.

He said it was ‘essential’ to maintain the supply of all medical products – including medicines, medical radioisotopes, vaccines, blood products, devices and consumables. 

As part of contingency plans, body bags are being stockpiled as a precaution, he said in the letter – extracts of which have been published on Twitter by ITV journalist Robert Peston.

The letter states: ‘We know that maintaining continuity of supply of all medical products, including medicines, medical radioisotopes, vaccines, blood products, devices and consumables, after the UK leaves the EU is essential.

‘The Department is working with its partners across Government, in the health sector and in industry to prepare for any possible disruption in the supply chain. While this does not mean that we are expecting such disruption, the Government is preparing for all exit scenarios.’

It adds: ‘These include sensible strategies for devices and consumables, including body bags, that come to the UK from or through the EU, such as precautionary stockpiling by suppliers, to ensure that the supply of essential products is not disrupted.’

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We are taking comprehensive action to ensure the NHS has continued access to products needed to deliver safe, effective care.

‘If everyone does what they should do, we are confident the supply of medicines and other medical supplies will be uninterrupted in the event of exiting the EU without a deal.’

In August last year, the Government set out its contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit scenario. In October, health secretary Matt Hancock issued a letter to NHS trusts with guidance on facilitating the supply of medical devices and clinical consumables.

Earlier last month, Mr Hancock was given a 10-day deadline to respond to queries about a potential medicine shortage in a no-deal Brexit scenario.