Government announces fresh plans to secure ro-ro capacity and a ‘procurement exercise to secure an express freight service to transport small medical supply consignments into the UK within 24 hours if the UK leaves the EU without a deal’.
The UK government yesterday unveiled new plans to secure freight capacity to ensure the continued supply of essential items in the event of a no-deal EU exit on 31 October, with a focus primarily on medicines and medical products needed urgently for patients in the UK.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) yesterday said it will lead a procurement exercise to secure an “express freight service” that “will transport small medical supply consignments into the UK within 24 hours if the UK leaves the EU without a deal”. It said this was “designed to support the uninterrupted supply of medicines and medical products where there is an urgent need or where a suppliers’ own logistics plans are disrupted”.
Although it has been reported that the UK’s contingency plans may involve chartering aircraft to get emergency medicines to the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Lloyd’s Loading List understands that the aim would be to partner with one of the major international air express operators such as DHL Express to provide the capacity.
DHSC noted that “additional plans are also being put in place for a freight capacity framework agreement that will provide government departments with the ability to secure freight capacity for our critical supply chains as and when required. Medicines and medical products will be prioritised on capacity that is procured.”
It said this latest procurement activity forms part of the wider plan for minimising any supply disruption. As well as freight capacity, this includes the building up of buffer stocks across the following sectors: medicines; medical devices and clinical consumables; blood and transplants; vaccines and countermeasures; supplies for clinical trials; non-clinical goods and services
DHSC said the plan also includes: additional warehouse space for stockpiled medicines, including ambient, refrigerated and controlled drug storage; working with industry to improve trader readiness “in preparation for the new customs procedures that will come into force on day 1 if we leave the EU without a deal”; “changing or clarifying regulatory requirements so that companies can continue to sell their products in the UK if we have no deal”; and arrangements to deal with shortages in addition to normal shortage management routes, “enabling ministers to issue serious shortage protocols to pharmacists”.
The department added: “All these arrangements echo the plans put in place ahead of 29 March and will be essential to the continuation of medicines and medical products if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The department continues to centrally coordinate contingency measures to mitigate risks to supply. This removes the need for any stockpiling at local level, which could cause medicine shortages and put patient care at risk.
“Leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s priority. However, it must plan for every eventuality, including no deal.”
In a note to medical shippers, DHSC “strongly” recommended that suppliers of medicines and medical products “review their supply routes and, where necessary, put in place robust plans to re-route supply away from the disrupted short straits routes into the UK, especially during the first three months following 31 October, when the most significant disruption is anticipated”, before giving further information about the government’s freight strategy plans, noting:
“In addition, the Government has also taken steps towards delivering Government-led solutions to support product re-routing, to be used to address urgent need where suppliers’ arrangements encounter difficulties: DHSC will commence a procurement exercise for ‘Express Freight Services’ to provide access to an end-to end solution able to deliver small consignments on a 24-hour basis and a two-to-four-day pallet delivery service. The Government also intends to commence procurement of ‘roll-on, roll-off’ freight capacity on which medicines and medical products would be prioritised to ensure the flow of all these products may continue unimpeded.”
Sources at the DHSC indicated that this ro-ro freight capacity was likely to be similar to those put in place last December ahead of the UK’s original planned departure date of 29 March, even though UK Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington indicated yesterday that this framework did not commit the government to purchasing or reserving any freight capacity. He told parliament: “The Department of Health and Social Care is starting the process of setting up an express freight contingency arrangement to support continuity of supply of medicines and medical products. This will be an urgent contingency measure for products requiring urgent delivery, within a 24-48 hour timeframe, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
“This express freight contingency arrangement forms part of the Department’s multi-layered approach, which includes rerouting medical supplies from the short strait crossings, extra warehouse space, stockpiling, buffer stocks, clarifying regulatory requirements, supporting traders to have all necessary paperwork in place at the border, and strengthening the processes used to deal with shortages to ensure that patients have uninterrupted access to medicines and medical products if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Government will only pay for capacity as and when it is needed and used. This will be designed to cover all of the UK. The Department will be writing to industry to set out further details of these preparations.
“The Department for Transport is putting in place a freight capacity framework agreement that will provide government departments with the ability to secure freight capacity for our critical supply chains as and when required. This framework does not commit the government to purchasing or reserving any freight capacity, but it does provide a flexible list of operators and options for the provision of the capacity that can be drawn upon if needed.”
One government source suggested that any apparent difference between the ro-ro ferry capacity being sourced now compared with last time is to do with phraseology more than anything, with no real difference in the planning this time round as pre-29 March. But he underlined that any further questions on the ro-ro capacity should be addressed to the DfT as they would be negotiating any contracts with the ferry companies.
As for the express freight service, he said that was a DHSC operation and in conformity with EU law on public procurement, and a primary notice inviting declarations of interest from parties able to provide such a service, will be published in the EU’s Official Journal in the coming days.
He said the DHSC’s aim with this “emergency delivery service” is to ship medicines from any point in the EU to the UK in 24-48 hours.
Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister, responding to the ministerial statement by David Lidington on EU Exit preparedness, called for a wider perspective, stating: “In the current circumstances, it is natural and appropriate that the UK Government should consider how to protect the supply of certain critical goods such as medicines. However, we also need a measured and holistic approach, one that rationally deals with all of our trading needs.
“The identified Category 1 goods, whilst critical, form a small subset of the total volume of goods essential to maintaining our quality of life. We believe a prudent Government should place a commensurate level of attention to ensure that all borders remain open so that other time sensitive essential items, such as perishable foods, continue to flow via the most economic route to market.
“The Port of Dover has been working with Government Departments and its business partners on both sides of the Channel for the past 18 months to address the practical issues of keeping trade flowing freely. It is clear that the Dover Straits route provides the most popular and efficient connection for trade between the UK, Ireland and Europe – keeping all borders open will enable this key route to provide the essential support to Britain’s economy – factories stay busy, our distribution system remains efficient, shops are full of the goods we want to buy and so prices remain low for the consumer.
“Keeping the traffic moving freely across borders will mean balancing any requirements for declarations around the realities of just-in-time logistics and flexible routing of lorries, and crystallising those requirements in sufficient time for merchants to develop the capability to meet them. It is in this area of ‘trader readiness’ that government can have a profound impact.
“The Port of Dover, as with our sister ports in France and our ferry partners, are prepared for 31 October. Merchants, border agencies and highway authorities (have) pivotal roles to play in ensuring the system continues to operate smoothly.
“We stand ready to support government and business through this transitional period.”