Drug export bans tripled to maintain stocks in COVID-19 outbreak

The number of drugs blocked for parallel export from the UK has been tripled as the government seeks to shore up supplies of vital medicines in the COVID-19 outbreak.

Medicines restrictions (Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images)
Medicines restrictions (Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images)

From 21 March the number of items on the 'restricted medicines' list has risen by 82 to 116 - by far the largest number on the list since the govenrment began publishing it last year to stave off drug shortages in the run-up to Brexit.

Paracetamol has been added to the list for the first time, after NHS advice was updated to say that patients with suspected COVID-19 infection should take paracetamol in preference to ibuprofen.

NHS advice says that patients currently taking ibuprofen on the advice of a healthcare professional should not stop taking it without consulting them.

Paracetamol restriction

The latest guidance acknowledges 'debate suggesting NSAIDs may increase complications from simple acute respiratory infections or slow recovery', but says the evidence to date is not conclusive.

The expansion of bans on the parallel export of drugs from the UK comes as more than 100 medicines used in primary care are currently unavailable, according to the drugs shortage tracker published by GPonline's sister website MIMS.

The government has warned medicines wholesalers that it could take regulatory action over hoarding or parallel exporting of drugs, warning: 'It is important that patients get the medicines they need and that medicines are not diverted to other countries or hoarded (held back) when they are needed to treat patients in the UK.'

Coronavirus

Parallel exporting of drugs involves wholesalers purchasing items already on the market in the UK to repackage and sell them - often at a higher price - in another country in the European Economic Area.

The government said in a letter to wholesalers in October 2019: 'Sometimes the parallel export of a medicine can lead to or exacerbate supply shortages in the exporting country. Shortages of medicines can pose serious risks to patients and lead to increased difficulty of sourcing medicines and mitigating risks to patients.'

Official figures updated on 22 March show that 78,340 people have been tested for coronavirus in the UK to date, of which 72,657 were confirmed negative and 5,683 were confirmed positive. A total of 281 deaths have been confirmed.

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