Pharmacists preparing to stockpile medicines for no-deal BrexitIvy Madziva
Health experts are warning that leaving the European Medicines Agency could impact on the supply of drugs into the UK.
Medicine supplies could be interrupted or run out in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the pharmaceutical industry has warned.
Industry leaders have told Sky News they are preparing to stockpile medicines and medical supplies in case the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal.
They have called on the government to provide clarity over the likely outcome of negotiations with the European Union.
The supply of drugs and medical supplies could be fundamentally affected by changes to existing customs arrangements and the current system of European regulation, overseen by the European Medicines Agency, which will leave its base in London next year.
Britain is due to leave the EMA when it exits the European Union in March, but MPs voted narrowly this week to require the government to seek continued membership.
Sky News understands that threat to medical supplies was raised with the cabinet at the Chequers summit earlier this month in a scenario paper outlining the impact of a no-deal Brexit across various sectors.
British pharmacists distribute around a billion prescriptions every year, and there is concern that without more information from the government supplies could run out.
“We are worried that there may be shortages of medicines as a consequence of this,” said Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
“We need to be much clearer about where we are in the whole process and what is happening. Our concern is that we may have a shortage of medicines and that will have a direct impact on patient care.
“We need a lot more information because at the moment our members simply do not know what will be required of them. If they come to us as community pharmacies and say, we want you to stockpile, the first question is who is going to pay for it?
“It is all very well asking us to stockpile but we do not get paid until the NHS buys the drugs, and there are financial implications about which we need to have clarity.”
The pharmaceutical industry is worth £60bn to the British economy, and exports 45m packets of medicine to Europe every month, with 37m coming the other way.
The supply chains are hugely complex however, and with many temperature and time-sensitive medicines there is concern over the impact of customs delays.
“This industry has got one of the most integrated supply chains of any industry, so the ability to get our medicines moving freely across Europe is critical,” said Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries.
“If I take just a single company that I have spoken to they have had to trace over 15,000 lines of products that come in and out of the UK.
“They have had to talk to the vendors of individual components and ask them if they have stockpiled enough so they can continue to make sure they have the medicines that we need. It is a massive undertaking that we are being asked to do.
“We need certainty because quite rightly we deliver medicines to very tight legal and medical requirements. But at the moment we don’t know which scenario we are planning for.
“At the moment the EMA says one thing, the UK regulator says another. Whether we are planning for a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, what really matters is that we can provide medicines to people who need them across the whole of Europe.”
There is concern on the NHS frontline too, where hospitals rely on short, uninterrupted flows of drugs and supplies.
The chairman of the Brexit Health Alliance Niall Dickson said: “There are very real risks if we get to a situation where we haven’t planned properly and expect all the things that currently happen to continue, because they will not.
“The reality is that for medicines, medical decides and the exchange of information rely on co-operation across European borders. Where that to be interrupted it is possible we could see shortages of medicines and medical equipment. We are very inter-dependent, and any situation where we haven’t planned properly could pose risks to patients.
“Today hospitals are much more reliant on just-in-time, they won’t necessarily hold huge backlogs of medicines, so you may find situations where hospitals are receiving materials today that they are using in operations tomorrow.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “A responsible government should prepare for all potential outcomes, including the unlikely scenario in which no mutually satisfactory agreement can be reached.
“To that end, teams are progressing work to assess the impact of exiting the EU on the supply chain for all medicines and medical devices used in the NHS.”
The Department for Exiting the EU said: “We are not going to comment on speculation about the contents of private cabinet discussions.”
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