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UK's medical drug supply still uncertain in no-deal Brexit

LONDON (AP) — Britain's government watchdog says there is still a "significant amount" of work to do to ensure the country has an adequate supply of medical drugs in case of a no-deal Brexit. In a report issued Friday, Britain's National Audit Office said additional shipping capacity chartered by the U.K. for sending goods across the English Channel might not be operational until the end of November — one month after the Oct. 31 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union. Of the more than 12,300 medicines licensed in the U.K., about 7,000 arrive from or via the EU, mostly across the Channel.

According to the British government's "reasonable worst-case" scenario, the flow of goods could be cut by half on Day One of a no-deal Brexit and could take a year to recover. It said time was "extremely limited" if the shipping issues were to be resolved by the end of October.

The report also said there was "incomplete information" about the levels of medicine stockpiling but that levels were increasingly daily. As of Sept. 20, suppliers reported that 72% of medicines had a six-week stockpile.

"In the event of a no-deal exit, the department (of health) would be working in a highly uncertain environment and operating all the elements of its plan would be a hugely demanding task," the watchdog wrote.

Meg Hillier, who chairs a committee overseeing the audit office, called the findings "deeply concerning." She said she had seen "countless examples" of the British government missing deadlines, but that this one was particularly striking.

"If the government gets this wrong, it could have the gravest of consequences," she said. Dr. Richard Torbett of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said that while companies have been working to prepare for Brexit, "some things are outside of their control."

He said more details were needed on how companies might access government-planned freight capacity if Britain sees a no-deal departure from the EU. "Securing a (Brexit) deal remains the best way to protect patients," he said.

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