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Freight operators delivering medical supplies from Europe should avoid the Channel Ports as “a matter of priority” to avoid border delays expected when the UK exits the EU at the end of the year.

The warning comes in a letter sent this week by Steve Oldfield, chief commercial officer at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to medical suppliers.

The letter sets out plans aimed at ensuring the continued supply of medicines and medical products into the UK after 31 December when the UK will leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union.

“We must plan for all scenarios," Oldfield told suppliers, "including any reduced traffic flow at the short straits in a reasonable worst-case scenario [ie between Calais/Dunkirk/Coquelles and Dover/Folkestone]."

Noting that a large percentage of medical supplies come from the EU, he added: “The first priority of any contingency should be to maintain replenishment rates at necessary levels by securing capacity to reroute freight away from the short straits potential disruption points.

“Companies are encouraged to review their own logistics arrangements and consider making plans for avoiding the short straits as a matter of priority.”

The letter also reveals plans to use express freight services via a £25m framework deal, awarded in October last year to UPS, DFDS and Biocare, in the event of border delays.

The letter also calls for suppliers to confirm their contingency plans for the end of the transition period - “in particular the balance between stock-holding in the UK, re-routing away from the short straits and readiness for new customs and border arrangements”.

It adds that while recognising that Covid-19 has put global supply chains under “significant pressure”, it urges suppliers to stockpile up to six weeks of medical goods “as a key part of contingency plans”.

The RHA slammed the plans this week. National policy director Duncan Buchanan said: “We need a border that functions and we are really disappointed after all these years of talking with government officials we have a situation where government departments are recognising that the border will not be ready at the end of the transition period.”