The availability of vital cancer drugs and other life-saving medicines could be impacted by a no-deal Brexit, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The Government is working around-the-clock to ensure Irish patients are not hit by delays in receiving medicine in the event of Britain crashing out of the European Union.
However, Ireland imports a huge range of pharmaceutical drugs from Britain and the Government is most concerned over the availability of what are known as ‘just in time’ medicines.
These drugs are manufactured on demand due to their cost and because they are generally tailored for specific patients. The drugs also have a short shelf-life and cannot be stockpiled.
The Cabinet will this week be briefed by Health Minister Simon Harris on the Government’s Brexit contingency plans for medicines. It is understood the main concerns centre on supply chains for drugs and medical regulations which could hold up access.
The Government has been working closely with Brussels to ensure EU pharmaceutical regulations do not prevent patients from receiving the medication they need as a result of a no-deal Brexit.
A Government source said: “Contingency plans for drugs are advanced and we are not going to have cancer patients without their drugs.
“Two years of work has gone into this and the EU is not going to allow patients get sicker than they already are because of Brexit,” the source added.
Another source said the Cabinet will be told they do not expect general medicine shortages in the short term as most companies have between 8-10 weeks’ reserve of drugs. However, the HSE and the Health Products Regulatory Authority are drafting contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit.
Revenue has also been developing measures to allow the fast-tracking of essential drugs into the country.
International pharma companies have opened ‘shadow laboratories’ on continental Europe which will begin manufacturing vital medicines in the event of Britain leaving the EU without a trade deal.
Around 60pc of all drugs consumed in Ireland are either imported from or pass through Britain.
It has also emerged the Government will seek fast-track access to ports in Calais, Dover and Holyhead in an attempt to reduce delays for Irish hauliers travelling through Britain.
There are concerns that trucks carrying perishable goods will be significantly impacted by delays at ports in France and Britain.
Government officials have visited Calais Port in France to examine what measures can be introduced to ensure Irish hauliers are not adversely affected by a no-deal Brexit.
Government sources believe it highly unlikely Irish truckers will be give preferential treatment in British ports but may be given fast-track access in France.
Meanwhile, Anna Maria Anders, the Polish secretary of state for international dialogue, has broken ranks with Brussels over the EU’s refusal to offer concessions on the Brexit withdrawal agreement. In an interview with the Brexit-supporting Telegraph, Ms Anders said: “I think the bureaucracy in Brussels has become a real issue… Right now they are refusing to compromise. Frankly, I just wish that we would get on with it.
“This period of uncertainty is a disaster. It is a disaster for everybody. It has weakened the leadership in this country terribly and people want to move on.”
Last Friday European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “This is our final offer. We can add clarifications but we will not renegotiate. The choice is: accept or reject it.”
But Ms Anders said: “I think a little bit of give on Brussels’ part would be good. The problem with Brussels and the EU generally is the fact it is so different to the way it was when Britain first joined the EU.”
Ms Anders, who was born in London, said the UK’s departure was “not going to be great for Poland” because it would “weaken the EU”. She said a second Brexit referendum would be the “worst case scenario” because it would have to “start all over again”.