The Department for Health and Social Care has set up a £25m express delivery service for to transport urgent medical supplies door to door after Brexit.
The department has awarded contracts to the logistics companies UPS and Biocair and ferry operator DFDS to run the freight service, which will deliver medicines and medical products within 24 or 48 hours as needed.
The contracts, announced in June, are to transport small consignments of medicines with a short shelf life and those that could run out because of Brexit-related delays to imports or transport routes.
They include the supply of temperature-controlled goods, controlled drugs and substances of human origin including blood, tissue and organs.
They are to be used “where there is an urgent need or where a suppliers' own logistics arrangements are disrupted”, the department has said.
The services are part of a government strategy to remove potential obstacles to access to medicines after Brexit, particularly in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The department has also procured extra warehouse space and asked pharmaceutical companies to stockpile supplies to mitigate the risk of supplies being delayed.
The announcement came just days after the Department for Transport announced it had awarded contracts worth £86.6m to three ferry companies to transport critical supplies including medicine into the UK after Brexit.
The ferries contracted through the DfT framework will run in any Brexit scenario – whether or not a withdrawal agreement is struck with the EU.
In contrast, DHSC’s freight contracts will be used on an as-needed basis. Companies and care providers will use them to order supplies at short notice, and will be able to choose how they are transported – for example, by air or sea.
And unlike the DfT contracts, the health department’s freight service will deliver supplies door to door.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the contracts meant his department now had “detailed plans in place for every medicine – including those with short shelf-lives – to help ensure that the supply of medicines and medical products are uninterrupted through Brexit”.
“This dedicated delivery service will get urgent supplies and short shelf-life medicines, like radioisotopes for cancer treatments, rapidly into the country, including by plane where necessary,” he said.
The contracts will be overseen by a National Supply Disruption Response, which DHSC has set up as part of its Brexit contingency planning. Social care and health providers have been told to report problems to the unit, which will help deal with “disruption to the supply of medicines and vaccines, medical devices and clinical consumables that normal procedures can’t resolve”, according to departmental guidance.
The contracts run for 12 months, with the option to renew for a second year.
Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “Whilst there are many things beyond their control, this is an important contingency plan that will help our members continue their preparations – alongside the stockpiles they have already built and alternative freight routes they have secured.”