Government guidance to health professionals, slipped out without any fanfare this morning, shows ministers expect customs procedures and queues at the channel ports to add days to transport times for essential medicines – despite their repeated assurances to worried members of the public that there is nothing to be concerned over.

In guidance on how healthcare providers should prepare for Brexit, the Department for Health and Social Care advises that “if your organisation currently relies on receiving products from the EU with short lead times of 24 to 48 hours, plan for longer lead times of up to 5 days.” The advice applies to commissioners and healthcare providers, including hospitals, care homes, GP practices and community pharmacies.

The advice also tells providers to “make sure you are prepared to receive stock deliveries outside normal hours.”

Behind the bland words is the stunning admission that the Government expect long delays from additional customs procedures, queues and checks at the ports in the case of No Deal.


Over 5% of all imports to the UK are pharmaceuticals and between 80 and 90% of all generic medicines (which make up over three-quarters of drugs used by the NHS) are imported from the EU – so the cost of extra procedures, tariffs and delays to the NHS could be massive.

It is likely similar delays will impact other goods – including food – and the impact on prices and consumer choice could be enormous. 

The guidance echoes the warnings which were part of the recently released Yellowhammer documents, the government’s official no deal plans. They warn of “delays to HGVs of 1.5-2.5 days” and note that “The reliance of medicines and medical products’ supply chains on the short straits crossing make them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays.”

Brexit risk registers prepared by local councils across the UK, uncovered by FOI requests submitted by the People’s Vote campaign, identified similar potential problems.


Commenting, Dr Rosena Alin Khan MP, an A&E doctor and a leading supporter of the People’s Vote, said:

“Delays to supplies of medicine are a million miles away from anything that was promised in 2016.

“This guidance, which flies in the face of all the assurances offered by Boris Johnson and his ministers, shows that they simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing for the country and for the health service. Piling costs and pressures on the NHS and patients is not patriotic or democratic when Boris Johnson knows it is not what anyone in the country wants.

“Any sort of Brexit will make things tougher for the NHS, but nothing would be worse than No Deal.

“Now that we can see what the costs and risks of Brexit are, the only fair and democratic way out of the crisis is to hold a final say referendum.



Notes to editors:

The guidance can be found online here: