No-deal Brexit would push health service into ‘damage limitation’ mode

Arrangements being made for cross-Border co-operation and to ensure medical supplies

“Significant work” has been undertaken to anticipate any potential supply vulnerabilities. Photograph: iStock

“Significant work” has been undertaken to anticipate any potential supply vulnerabilities. Photograph: iStock


Managing a no-deal Brexit will be an “exercise in damage limitation” for the health service, secretary general of the Department of Health Jim Breslin will tell an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday.

Officials from the department and the HSE will appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Health to give details of how prepared the health services are for Brexit.

The national director of acute strategy and planning in the HSE, John Hennessy, will outline to the committee details of plans to address potential problems with medical supplies, drugs, vaccines and foodstuffs.

Officials are working to ensure patients in Border areas can still access cardiology and radiotherapy services in Altnagelvin, and that services can still be provided on an all-island basis for children at Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin.

Arrangements are also being put in place to ensure that the National Ambulance Services in the North and South can still work together in the event of a major emergency.

Both the department and the HSE are working on further issues in relation to importing and exporting foodstuffs.

Mr Breslin is expected to tell TDs that resources have been provided to conduct appropriate checks where Ireland is the first point of entry to the EU.


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“Preparations are also under way in the event that the UK should decide to require export certificates for certain food products,” his statement reads.


Extra environmental health officers are being recruited, and that process is being expedited.

And a joint technical group between the HSE and HPRA is now engaged in “intensive work” to identify potential issues with medical and surgical supplies.

“The key risks in the short term relate to potential disruption and delay to supply chains. The key supply chain challenges in the short or immediate term are likely to be related to medicines with a short shelf life, refrigerated supply chains, compounded products and time critical logistics,” according to Mr Hennessy’s opening statement.

He will outline to the committee that there is currently a six-month stock of vaccines in Ireland.

“With regard to vaccines, a two- to three-months stock is held in the HSE National Cold Chain Service which, with the stock held by companies in Ireland, gives approximately six-month supply to ensure the continuation of service delivery.”

Mr Breslin will say that “it would be impossible in a no-deal scenario to maintain the current seamless arrangements between the EU and UK across a full range of sectors, which are currently facilitated by our common EU membership”.

No immediate risks

He will say that the department’s current analysis is that there are “no immediate risks to the health of the population because of Brexit.”

In relation to the supply of medicines and other medical goods, he will say that “significant work” has been undertaken by the department, the HSE and the HPRA, to anticipate potential vulnerabilities.

“No major supply issues have been identified through the preparedness and contingency planning exercises.

“Ireland is unlikely to face serious general medicines supply issues in the period immediately after March 29th. Any emerging supply issues will, in the first instance, be dealt with from existing supplies held within the domestic distribution chain.”

Mr Breslin is expected to say that the pharmaceutical industry and wholesalers have provided assurances that they are confident they will have sufficient stocks to bridge any initial issues at ports, should this happen.

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