Crisis planning to prevent the UK being left without sufficient medical supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit is being stepped up as deadline day looms.
Health minister Stephen Hammond confirmed three-quarters of medicines and over half of the clinical consumables such as needles and syringes used here come from or via the European Union.
“Too much of this is outside of the control of the NHS”
The main risk to supply is traffic flow problems between the ports of Calais and Dover or Folkestone, he said in a written statement.
In preparation for a no-deal, the Department of Health and Social Care (DSHC) has made contingency arrangements that will kick in after the UK splits from the EU on March 29. These include:
- Securing different routes for stock to be shipped into the UK away from Dover and Folkestone
- Having at least six weeks’ worth of buffer stocks in storage for the next six months
- Buying extra warehouse space to hold additional stock
- Booking space on aeroplanes for products that require an immediate shipment due to short shelf-life or specific storage conditions
- Making changes to, or clarifications of, certain regulatory requirements so companies can continue to sell their products in the UK in no-deal scenario
- Putting in place legislation to deal with serious shortages if they do occur
Mr Hammond said in his statement: “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 warned against patients or services carrying out their own unofficial stockpiling of medical supplies.
“Local stockpiling is unnecessary and could cause shortages in other areas, which could put patient care at risk,” Mr Hammond said.
Sandra Gidley, chair of the English Pharmacy Board at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, told Nursing Times she had been reassured by the contingency planning by the government.
“My message really is keep calm and carry on”
With the medicine reserves being put in place, the UK “might even be in a better situation than we are normally”, said Ms Gidley, noting that drugs shortages had become more common.
She echoed Mr Hammond’s caution against local stockpiling. ”If people start to panic to try and get a little bit extra that could scupper all the good work that is being done so my message really is keep calm and carry on,” Ms Gidley said.
She said some patients had expressed concern about the new serious shortages protocol that had been brought in, which would allow pharmacists to dispense an alternative medicine if the prescribed drug was out of stock without having to contact a GP.
However, she said she believed this was a positive move because it would force pharmacists and GP staff to “sing from the same hymn sheet for once”, noting how currently when there were shortages patients were often sent back and forth between the surgery and pharmacy.
She added that patients should trust pharmacists to be able to dispense the right medicines competently.
“I know there are some who say pharmacists shouldn’t be doing this, but actually pharmacists are the experts in medicine so they can be trusted but the ideal thing is to work with physicians so things don’t fall through the net when making decisions,” she said.
The UK is currently part of the EU Falsified Medicines Directive, which works to ensure medicines in are safe and properly traded.
At the start of this month, the directive brought into force new measures that see scannable codes placed on medication packaging to show the contents is legitimate and has not been tampered with.
However, Ms Gidley revealed that some hospitals had not invested in the kit because they were worried that they would no longer have access to the verification system after Brexit.
“Local stockpiling is unnecessary and could cause shortages in other areas”
“This went live on 9 February supposedly but a lot of the packs haven’t got proper codes on yet and some hospitals actually haven’t bought the kit because they’re aware that if we have a hard Brexit we could potentially lose access to the database with the details on,” she told Nursing Times.
“So, that means potentially the UK could be more vulnerable to fraudulent medicines coming into the country because it’s a weak link,” she added.
“If all the rest of Europe can have the medicines checked and the UK can’t, if you’re a counterfeiter, where would you target your potential market?,” she said.
Ms Gidley said if she was to ask for anything from Europe as part of the withdrawal it would be to continue to allow the UK access to the database.
Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance and chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the measures set out by Mr Hammond would “help to support local preparations”.
Source: Neil O’Connor
However, he warned that obtaining an agreement must remain the government’s priority because despite the contingency plans put in place no deal “means more risk”.
He added that too much of the measures outlined by Mr Hammond were out of the hands of the NHS.
“We recognise the enormous effort that has gone into making these plans as robust as possible,” Mr Dickson said.
“However, too much of this is outside of the control of the NHS and our members,” he added. “That is why we continue to advocate for a negotiated deal to provide maximum protection for patients.”