Health and Brexit Statement

Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Preparing the health and care services in Wales for a 'no deal' Brexit  01.10.19

I'm pleased to receive this update from you, Minister, because, whether it's a deal or no deal, we need to get Brexit done.

Now, the Welsh Conservatives support the result of the referendum. People in Wales voted overwhelmingly to leave, and it is incumbent on Welsh Government to make the requisite preparations. And, let's be frank, leaving without a deal is a direct result of Labour in Westminster voting against Brexit deal proposals again and again. They voted against it on every occasion, Minister, and, to be fair, or to be honest, or just to be frank, again, Jeremy Corbyn is showing zero leadership on this.

The e-mails and telephone calls that I receive from people right across the political spectrum, and from people who have no political allegiance whatsoever—there's frustration; they want it done, they want it out of the way. They want to get Brexit done. And it needs to be done whilst protecting our NHS and our social care services. And, Minister, given that protecting our NHS is vital, will you welcome the £1.2 billion investment that the UK Government will be able to realise, which should be able to come to Wales? And will you commit to ensuring that that £1.2 billion over the next three years will be spent on our NHS and our social care? Because, after 20 years of your Government in charge here in Wales, we are behind in our NHS. Four out of our seven health boards are now in targeted intervention or special measures. Betsi Cadwaladr's mental health services have been in special measures longer than any other health board anywhere in the UK. In Wales, a 95 per cent target for patients spending less than four hours in A&E hasn't been met since it was introduced in 2008. And NHS Wales last met its cancer waiting times in 2008. This is compounded by the fact that the Welsh ambulance service has the longest delays of any NHS trust in the UK. So, will you commit, Minister, here and now, to ensuring that any additional money, that this £1.2 billion, as a result of consequentials in health, is spent on our NHS?

You mention, in your statement, drug shortages. Now, the Welsh NHS Confederation are very clear on this: they said that shortages of medicine are standard in the NHS and the challenge is how to manage it. And I have confidence that the UK Government is working with the pharma industry to ensure that supplies are not affected and that increased costs are minimised. I think the scaremongering about this issue is very dangerous. It must be terrifying to people watching what's going on, and it can only have a negative effect, both on prices, stockpiling and public perception. And I reiterate again, the NHS Confederation themselves state: 'Our members inform us that there are currently no issues with the availability of medicines as a result of Brexit'.

Now, the English NHS has outlined the following contingencies: they've recommended that suppliers of medicines build up at least six weeks of extra stock above their usual buffer levels. Can you tell me, Minister, if you've done the same to suppliers to us here in Wales? I was really pleased to see in your statement that you have committed to extra warehousing and storage facilities for medical necessities and medical equipment. But, obviously, it can also be used for some of these medicines. Have you been involved in trying to push through things like buying extra space on ferries so that medicines and medical products will be able to come into the UK? Have you been involved in encouraging the re-routing of medicines into the UK? Have you been party to the discussions, or been involved in, promoting that medicines, devices and clinical trials licensed or tested in the EU can continue to be used in the UK in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit by amending those regulations? So, I'd be really grateful if you would be able to give us an update on those particular issues.

 

You mentioned food supplies, as did the Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs. Again, I don't wish to scaremonger to people out there who may be worrying that, if they were to go into hospital, they wouldn't be able to have any food, because, of course, it's going to be just some things that are out of kilter—that could be out of kilter. Because the reality is nobody actually knows what is going to happen. So, can you please confirm—I know that you've said that you have asked health boards to look at this, but can you confirm that the health boards themselves have actually engaged with their staff and have issued the instructions that you spoke about?

You mentioned recruitment issues. Now, of course, we know, don't we, here in Wales, we have a special set, a unique set, of problems with recruitment, and it's not just Brexit—to Brexit or not to Brexit. We've had issues with people wanting to come into Wales; we've had issues with people about whether or not they believe that the hospital they might go to work for is stable enough and strong enough; we've had issues with historic under-investment in training places and difficulty in providing training specialisms. So, if you could perhaps give us an update on how those kinds of issues might be affected by a 'no deal' Brexit, I think that that would, again, go some way to setting the record in a very, perhaps, clear way.

I'm delighted to see, as per your statement, that, despite Brexit, the number of EU nationals employed by the Welsh NHS has actually increased. In fact, Llywydd, we've seen a staggering 42 per cent increase in EU nationals working in the Welsh NHS since 2015, and each and every one of them is extremely welcome here. And it is good to see that we're still a world leader in the UK in the innovation of new medicines. Now, we talk about investment and investment happening in the NHS, but we need to remember that, here in Wales, for example, ReNeuron have just struck an £80 million deal with the Chinese firm Fosun Pharma in April this year for the development of stroke-related and human retinal progenitor cell line blindness therapy programmes. Now, that's no sign of uncertainty and that's really good, and that's the kind of business we need to go out there and get.

Research and development spending in Wales is still strong, in the UK is strong. It's expected to increase by 3 per cent in the longer term. And, of course, the corporation tax cuts will benefit UK pharma companies. But can you tell me what effect Labour's hard left proposals under 'Medicines for the Many' will have on the UK's world-leading reputation in research and development for medicines? Taking China and Cuba as his examples, the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, said that a Labour Government would use compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines, and hold pharma to ransom by telling them that, if they want public research funding, then they'll have to make their drugs affordable for all. And you and I know how important it is to have affordable drugs in the NHS, because we have an ever-tightening budget and ever greater needs. But the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry have said that compulsory licensing amounts to the seizure of new research and would undermine this amazing research and development that we have here in Wales, particularly in Cardiff and Swansea universities. So, your clarification on this matter and on the effect that that would have on us—Brexit or no Brexit—would be very, very worthwhile listening to.