Green leader Patrick Harvie, FM Nicola Sturgeon and the Pfizer vaccine.

By Bill Heaney
Dumbarton MSP Patrick Harvie, leader of the Green Party in the Holyrood parliament, expressed deep concern at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday about the possibility of of disruption to medicine supplies during the ongoing Brexit crisis.
Mr Harvie said he was deeply worried also about workforce shortages and vulnerable patients who are abroad being forced to travel home.. 

He told Nicola Sturgeon: “Most of us wish that we had never heard of Covid or Brexit, but it is clear that facing them both at the same time will make each crisis even worse.

“With or without a trade deal, we know that Brexit will be harmful, and by this weekend we might find out exactly how bad it will be.”

Health boards have warned that Brexit could disrupt their services at the time they are most needed, and one board said that a no-deal Brexit could “lead to an inability to deliver safe and effective care”.

There have already been shortages of key medicines during the past couple of years—including morphine, benzodiazepines, hormone replacement therapy and epilepsy drugs.

Patrick Harvie said: “It is expected that those drugs and others will become increasingly hard to deliver in the months after we are dragged out of Europe.

“Can the First Minister assure us that Brexit will not result in a shortage of drugs or personal protective equipment in our national health service, and that working hours regulations and the longer-term loss of staff from EU countries are being taken into account in NHS workforce planning?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “I am deeply and increasingly concerned about the lack of clarity over the arrangements that will apply at the end of the Brexit transition period, in only a matter of weeks.

“We are exactly a year on from the general election, when the Prime Minister said that his deal was ‘oven ready’.

“Now, here we are, not knowing whether there will even be a deal. If there is a deal, it will be the bare bones and a minimalist one, and it will do real damage to the Scottish economy and society. I am deeply concerned about that.

I cannot give an absolute assurance that there will be no impact on our economy, society and health service if there is a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year.

“I can assure Mr Harvie that the Scottish Government is doing everything in its power to minimise and mitigate that impact.

We have been putting medical contingency plans in place. We continue to build a national stockpile of intensive care and end-of-life medicines. We are working across the four nations to ask pharmaceutical companies to increase medicine stocks to a six-week supply.

“We are working through NHS National Services Scotland to ensure that adequate stocks of medical devices and clinical consumables are held in the national distribution centre. That planning will continue. The United Kingdom vaccines task force is also planning to ensure the continued supply of vaccines from 1 January.”

Patrick Harvie said: “All of that is happening at a time of year when our national health service would be under the greatest strain anyway, but added Covid pressure in January could bring a perfect storm.

“Experts consistently warn that we might face a third wave of Covid in the new year.

“The British Medical Association and the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges have said that a rise in cases resulting from the lifting of restrictions over Christmas could overwhelm parts of the NHS, whose services are already stretched to the limit.

“That all comes at a time when we will be asking the NHS to deliver the Covid vaccination programme, whose rapid progress is essential to defeating the virus.”

Mr Harvie asked the First Minister tell MSPs what additional resources would be provided to the NHS to deal with that unprecedented crisis and asked for a date from her to confirm when all of NHS Scotland’s front-line staff would be vaccinated.

The FM replied :”I cannot give that date now, for the simple reason that we do not yet have clarity about what supplies of the vaccine we will have.

“We will vaccinate in the order of priority that the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation has recommended, and as quickly as those supplies become available.

“We have supplies this week—I have given an initial report on that—and we expect to get further supplies before the end of this year.

“The health secretary [Jeane Freeman] and I had direct conversations with Pfizer earlier this week to give us a deeper understanding of that.

“We will vaccinate as quickly as those supplies come through. Although it is not yet certain, we are hopeful that other vaccines will receive authorisation in the weeks to come and that that will further accelerate the supplies that we have available.

“We have already increased the resources that are available to the NHS to help it to deal with the consequences and implications of the pandemic, and discussion about that with the national health service is on-going.

“The most important thing that we can do now for the national health service—as well as hope that we do not face the disruption of a no-deal Brexit—is ensure that we are suppressing the virus.

“That is why this Government continues to take tough decisions about the level of restrictions that must apply in different areas.

“I have just had what I think was an irresponsible line of questioning from the leader of the Labour party [Richard Leonard], who was urging me to lift restrictions against a rising trend of infections. We will not do that, because was must suppress the virus to protect our NHS and save lives.”

One comment

  1. Does the E11 card not work both ways , if EU refuse to treat UK citizens should that mean all EU citizens in UK should automatically have to have an insurance policy paid by them or their employer to use NHS services.
    Anyone who can afford to exit UK & live In EU can afford the insurance
    Likewise no holiday booking without insurance policy
    The change is on its way except it

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