No-deal Brexit: New powers to restrict medical supplies and close pharmacies

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With the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal looking increasingly likely, Chief Minister John Le Fondré has lodged proposals to update emergency powers and planning laws as the government seeks to ensure essential supplies will still reach the Island.

The move would see a ‘competent authority’ – a designated individual – established specifically to safeguard medical supplies, alongside existing roles, such as for telecommunications and emergency planning.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s rhetoric on Brexit has toughened in recent days, with his top aide, Dominic Cummings, reportedly telling officials and ministers that it is now too late for Parliament to block a no-deal scenario before the departure date of 31 October.

According to the proposition, powers that would be granted to the competent authority for medical supplies would include:

  • Regulating the length or number of prescriptions that may be issued by medical practitioners, including GPs.
  • Requisitioning ‘at risk’ medical supplies from pharmacies to a central distribution point.
  • Restricting the dispensing of medical supplies by pharmacists.
  • Allowing pharmacists to provide alternative medicines to those that are prescribed.
  • Restricting pharmacy opening hours or forcing the closure of stores in the case of severe shortages.

In preparation for the initial Brexit Day in March earlier this year, the government carried out a series of tests on the Island’s contingency and emergency arrangements, including its Emergencies Council, for a potential ‘day one no-deal’ Brexit.

The work identified that there was a lack of a competent authority to exercise emergency powers, should they be needed, to ensure medical supplies continued to reach Islanders.

‘When preparing for a day one no-deal Brexit, the importance of ensuring the supply of medicines and medical supplies to the Island was one of the key areas of Government of Jersey preparation,’ the report accompanying Senator Le Fondré’s proposition says.

‘The absence of a competent authority for these supplies is an anomaly that the proposed amendment seeks to address. The powers of a competent authority are exercised by order, with the law setting out only enabling powers and areas of responsibility.

‘The amendment draws on the existing provisions for the competent authority for food as the most comparable area.’

Existing competent authorities include External Relations Minister Ian Gorst for telecommunications and Home Affairs Minister Len Norman for emergency planning.

The proposition also put forwards amendments setting out a clear decision-making process for the Emergencies Council, which would take overall responsibility for ensuring the Island’s supply chains remained intact.

‘The straightforward amendments proposed create a structure around the council to ensure decisions are made by a quorum of at least half the council’s members and by majority agreement,’ the report says.

The proposition is due to be debated on 10 September.

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