Approximately 7,500 medicines used in the UK have been identified by the Department of Health and Social Care as having touchpoints in Europe, the Government has revealed in an update on its no-deal Brexit planning.
Roughly three quarters of the medicines and over half of the clinical consumables used in the UK come from or via the EU, the DHSC said, with flow between Calais and Dover or Folkestone the most crucial means of entry.
In a statement to the House of Commons on preparations to ensure continued medicines supply if there is a no-deal Brexit, health minister Stephen Hammond revealed the DHSC had analysed 12,300 licensed medicines, of which 7,000 POM and P medicines were found to have touchpoints in the EU and/or EEA.
Mr Hammond said the DHSC had been working with pharmaceutical companies to increase buffer stocks to “at least” an additional six weeks’ supply, and that the “vast majority” of companies had confirmed plans were in place.
In the case of medicines that cannot be stockpiled due to factors such as short shelf lives (e.g. medical radioisotopes), “we have asked suppliers to make alternative routes using airfreight, which some suppliers already do now”.
The DHSC also identified 500 GSL medicines with an EU touchpoint and said it had worked with NHS England to identify those that are “important for the management of specific health conditions” and was working with suppliers on building stockpiles of these.
Medical products such as medical devices, clinical consumables, blood, vaccines and clinical trial supplies are also being looked at in the DHSC’s stockpiling work ahead of March 29, as is additional warehouse space “including ambient, refrigerated and controlled drug storage”.
Transport infrastructure has been identified by the Government as crucial to the continued supply of medicines, and the Department of Transport is working to secure additional roll on, roll off freight capacity. ‘Tickets’ have been purchased from ferry companies to this end.
Mr Hammond told the Commons: “While we never give guarantees, we are confident that if everyone – including suppliers, freight companies, international partners and the health and care system – does what they need to do, the supply of medicines and medical products should be uninterrupted in the event of exiting the EU without a deal.”
He also said that the DHSC has “well established routine procedures to deal with medicines shortages” and that there is “no hard evidence to date to suggest current issues are increasing as a result of EU exit”.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee repeated its advice to contractors that “local stockpiling is unnecessary and could lead to unintended consequences,” adding that patients should be reassured that measures have been taken to prevent shortages.
PSNC director of operations and support Gordon Hockey said: “We hope that these new communications from Government will go some way towards reassuring patients and the public that a significant amount of work has been going on behind the scenes to put in place robust plans to ensure the continuity of the supply of medicines, even in a no-deal Brexit scenario.
“PSNC has been very closely involved in that work, supporting DHSC’s efforts to help minimise the impact of a no-deal Brexit on community pharmacies and their patients.
“Contractors should also familiarise themselves with the DISC operational readiness guidance if they have not already done so.”
Mr Hockey added that PSNC is working with DHSC on the “details” around Serious Shortage Protocols and that it will publish guidance on the SSPs “as soon as possible”.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni said: “The RPS still has confidence in the planning and arrangements that the DHSC has in place, but as with anything there are going to be issues that arise that have not been anticipated.
“We hope there are mechanisms to respond rapidly to anything that may emerge from now on, as we are entering a critical phase.”