Brexit could disrupt medicine supplies for six months - minister


A no-deal Brexit could disrupt medicines supplies to the UK for at least six months because of delays as they are shipped across the channel, instead of the previously estimated six weeks, a government minister has warned.

The website Hospital Pharmacy Europe reported that manufacturers may have to rethink logistics arrangements to avoid the delays when medicines are shipped via crossings at Dover and Folkestone.

It cited a letter from MP Stephen Hammond, sent this month, written in response to questions from the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee about access to medical supplies if no deal is reached by 29th March.

Delays could affect “critical” prescription-only and pharmacy drugs, and UK manufacturers, Hammond warned in the letter.

Flying medicines in by air freight is one option under consideration to avoid delays maintain the supply, but Hammond gave no further information about which medicines would be prioritised.

In the letter he said the Department of Health and Social Care is exploring this option, but said arrangements with air freight companies are commercially confidential.

The warning emerged as the UK government rushes emergency legislation through Parliament to ensure medicines regulation continues in the increasingly likely event of a no-deal Brexit.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has already drawn up plans for a new system if the UK does not agree a way for it to work with European regulator after Brexit.

It’s hoped that a deal would allow for a transition period lasting until at least the end of next year that would give the UK time to agree details of new regulatory arrangements with European colleagues.

UK pharma is also concerned that the UK could drop out of a Europe-wide initiative to crack down on fake medicines as a result of Brexit.

Arrangements under the falsified medicines directive (FMD) came into effect this month allowing medicines to be traced along the supply chain using a special barcode.

But it is not clear whether the system will be in place in April as Brexit would require the UK to leave the system.

Dr Rick Greville, director of supply chain at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said: “Billions of packs of medicines travel around the EU annually, destined for over 500 million patients. This new system means that patients across Europe will have the best protection from fake medicines in the world.

“It would be an absolute travesty if NHS patients aren’t part of a system specifically designed to protect them. But that’s exactly what could happen in a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It is just another reason why we urgently need a Brexit deal.”