Supply of medicines a key Brexit concern for health service, says Harris

Minister says contingency plans are being made but there is no stockpiling of drugs

Minsiter for Health Simon Harris speaking in Farmleigh in Dublin on Friday. Photograph: Maxwell Photography

The continued supply of medicines to patients in this State is one of the main concerns facing the health service from Brexit, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

The Minister said the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) was working with the Health Service Executive (HSE) on contingency plans to deal with supply problem following the departure of the UK from the European Union.

Mr Harris said he was confident the plans were robust and every action that could be taken was being taken.

“But it is a reality of the situation, if there was to be a hard Brexit, it does make supply of medicine much more challenging than now,” he said.


Mr Harris said there were “issues in relation to labelling”.

"The fact that we are an English- speaking country as is the UK and therefore the supply to the UK often directly affects the supply to the Republic of Ireland as well."

However, the Minister said health authorities in Ireland were not stockpiling drugs and medicines in advance of the scheduled departure of the UK in March 2019.

Mr Harris said medicine supply and the mutual recognition of qualifications for medical professionals were “probably the two most acute areas of concern in relation to healthcare and Brexit”.

He said these issues were being worked through as part of the dialogue between EU and UK negotiators regarding Brexit.

The Minister was speaking at Farmleigh House in Dublin on Friday, where he announced an expansion of North/South co-operation in the provision of surgical services for children.

He told the third annual conference of the all-island congenital heart disease network that approval had been granted for a four-bed extension to the paediatric intensive care unit in Our Lady's Children's Hospital Crumlin.

He said this would support the development of the network which provided cardiac care to children with congenital heart disease.

The Minister said he was struck by the fact that while Brexit was being debated and discussed, “people in healthcare are getting on with it as they cannot afford the luxury of waiting”.

He said: “They are continuing to work together whether it is Altnagelvin ( in Derry) providing radiotherapy to people in the north west of this island or whether it be paediatric cardiac care with children travelling down from the north.

“I would expect that to continue. Obviously the final shape of any Brexit deal is a matter of ongoing discussion between the EU and Britain.”

Separately, The Irish Times understands the Department of Health has highlighted to the HSE what it said was the importance for the Government and citizens that it made detailed preparations for the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

In a letter sent to top-level HSE management three weeks ago, the secretary general of the department Jim Breslin said the HSE had "a central role to play in health sector preparations and in anticipating and addressing the many challenges that may arise".

Mr Breslin said it was vital that the HSE’s commitment and work load in relation to preparations for Brexit was set out in its forthcoming service plan on how its €16 billion budget will be spent next year.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent