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Plans to stockpile medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit

GPs urged to reassure patients over Brexit fears

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 24 August 2018

Drug firms are being asked to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines in case the UK fails to secure a deal with the EU over Brexit, which could delay the supply of medicines.

Doctors’ leaders appear to be sceptical of the government’s newly issued advice on this issue and other implications of a no-deal Brexit, despite calls for clinicians to reassure worried patients.

The government yesterday published its first collection of technical notices to inform industry and public sector bodies on what could happen if Britain leaves the EU next March without an agreement.

For health and care, these included papers on:

  • batch testing medicines
  • labelling tobacco products and e-cigarettes
  • ensuring blood and blood products are safe
  • quality and safety of tissues, organs and cells
  • how medicines, medical devices and clinical trials will be regulated
  • submitting regulatory information on medical products.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has written a letter to the health and care system, while guidance and guidelines has also been issued for the pharmaceutical industry and suppliers of medical devices.

Mr Hancock said in the letter: “The government has made significant progress in negotiations with the EU and remains confident we will leave with a good deal for both sides, that supports existing and future healthcare collaboration.

“However, as a responsible government, we continue to prepare proportionately for all scenarios, including the unlikely outcome that we leave the EU without any deal in March 2019.”

Accordingly, the government was setting out a new scheme to ensure a “sufficient and seamless supply” of medicines in the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit, he added, saying: “Under the medicines scheme, pharmaceutical companies should ensure therefore they have an additional six weeks supply of medicines in the UK on top of their own normal stock levels” in case EU imports through certain routes were affected.

The scheme also included separate arrangements for the air freight of medicines with short shelf-lives.

GPs, hospitals, and community pharmacies did not need to take any steps to stockpile additional medicines, beyond their business as usual stock levels, he added, saying: “There is also no need for clinicians to write longer NHS prescriptions. Local stockpiling is not necessary and any incidences involving the over ordering of medicines will be investigated.”

The government was also asking clinicians to reassure patients that plans were in place to ensure a continued supply of medicines from the moment the UK left the EU.

BMA council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “Today the government is asking clinicians to reassure the public, but it is clear to the BMA that Brexit will have a catastrophic impact for patients, the health workforce, services and the nation’s health.

“Many of the no-deal outcomes outlined would result in the UK becoming both less influential within the health sector and a less significant market. The government is addressing the immediate risks of a no-deal scenario by encouraging providers to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines, but we need greater clarity on underlying long-term concerns.”

The Brexit Health Alliance – a coalition of NHS organisations, medical research, industry, patients and public health bodies to safeguard the interests of patients and research – has worked with the government to inform the new guidance.

Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, said: “Today’s guidance is a welcome and important step towards providing the assurance that patients need.

“We welcome the moves towards national stockpiling of medicines which should make sure patients will not experience delays in treatment should there be no deal. This is a time for planning not panic.”

Royal College of Physicians registrar and president-elect Dr Bod Goddard said: “We’ve said from the start that patient safety must be at the centre of Brexit planning. We are pleased that the government has heard the calls from the sector and is taking a transparent approach by making public the Brexit no-deal scenario guidance which relates to health care.”

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