The pharmaceutical industry’s six-week drugs stockpile will not be enough to guarantee medicines supply if there is no Brexit deal – but healthcare professionals should not build stockpiles of their own and any “over-ordering” will be investigated, says Matt Hancock in an update on preparations for a potential no deal Brexit.
The letter was issued to healthcare providers on Friday December 7, shortly after plans to introduce emergency protocols such as allowing pharmacists to amend prescriptions in the event of medicine shortages were leaked to the Times.
In his letter, Mr Hancock says that if there is no deal the European Commission plans to “impose full third country controls on people and goods entering the EU from the UK.” If this leads to border checks, there could be “significantly reduced access” across the short straits crossings into Dover and Folkestone for up to six months, which could disrupt the flow of goods such as medicines and medical products.
It has been reported that Theresa May plans to postpone Parliament’s meaningful vote on the Brexit deal, which was scheduled to take place on Tuesday December 11.
Mr Hancock says he is “extremely pleased” by the pharmaceutical industry’s response to his request in August to stockpile a six-week supply of POM and P medicines as a precaution, but warns that “it is clear that in light of the changed border assumptions described above this will now need to be supplemented with additional actions” and the Government is working with the industry on this (there are also talks between Government and community pharmacy bodies, though this is not stated in the letter).
He warns healthcare providers against making their own stockpiles, however: “UK health and social care providers – including hospitals, care homes, GPs and community pharmacies – should not stockpile additional medicines beyond their business as usual stock levels. There is also no need for clinicians to write longer NHS prescriptions.
“Local stockpiling by UK health and social care providers is unnecessary and could cause shortages in other areas, which would put patient care at risk
“Any incidences involving the over-ordering of medicines will be investigated and followed up with the relevant Chief or Responsible Pharmacist directly. The Department and the NHS will implement monitoring mechanisms to ensure Trusts are not stockpiling locally. NHS organisations should continue to manage shortage issues through existing communication channels.”
Patients should be told not to store additional medicines at home, he adds.
Warwick Smith, director general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) said that while welcomes signs the Government is “working with industry to secure the supply of medicines to patients in the case of a no-deal Brexit,” the industry needed more detail from the health secretary.
Mr Smith said: “Our members have cooperated with the Government’s request for holding additional stocks and providing data to allow them to assess the risk to the supply chain of medicines, and to work with us on putting in place mitigating measures.
“However, while the outcome of Brexit clearly remains uncertain, it is now time to accelerate this work and putting mitigating measures in place takes time. Therefore, while an update from the Secretary of State is helpful, it contains less detailed information than leaks from other Government departments. It is vitally important that the Government shares with us and others all their current information so that we can plan accordingly.”
Mr Smith said in October that the BGMA's main priorities for Brexit were for the UK and the EU27 to reach an agreement that would allow the "free flow of medicines and their components" and that ideally there would be regulatory alignment on medicines, "or more pragmatically a mutual recognition agreement".