MPs urge government to outline 'critical' post-Brexit medicine supply plans

MPs have urged the DHSC to outline plans for maintaining medicine supply chains after the UK has quit the European Union, warning that the government 'cannot afford to drag its feet'.

Brexit medicine supply impact (Photo: iStock.com/Cecilie_Arcurs)
Brexit medicine supply impact (Photo: iStock.com/Cecilie_Arcurs)

A report by the House of Commons public accounts committee (PAC) said the DHSC was ‘unable’ to provide any details on how it plans to mitigate against any supply issues that could arise after Brexit.

Potential problems include trouble with importing medicines, price hikes and medicine shortages.

The warning comes after prices of some generic medicines increased unexpectedly in 2017, contributing substantially to a £250m overspend among CCGs.

Although no patients were harmed, some experienced difficulties in obtaining medicines, which caused ‘frustration and distress’.

'Wake up call'

PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said: ‘The impact of last year’s generic drug price increases should have served as a wake up call to government.’

She added that although the DHSC now has ‘new powers at its disposal’ - which allow it to collect more information about the market for generic medicines and control price when needed - it ‘could not explain to us how these will better enable it to handle similar price increases and related shortages in future’.

'This is unacceptable and doubly worrying in the context of uncertainty over supply chains after Brexit, particularly for medicines with a short shelf-life. Government cannot afford to drag its feet on this critical issue, either now or after Brexit,' she said.

‘By the end of this year we expect it to demonstrate it has a clear plan to ensure patients can access the medicines they need, and to mitigate the impact of price rises on desperately stretched NHS resources,’ she concluded.

Brexit

According to the report, the DHSC does not expect Brexit to affect where the NHS obtains its medicines as the ‘vast majority’ are made outside the European Union. The department is currently ‘looking at how it can mitigate against any supply issues which could arise in response to the UK’s exit from the European Union’.

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'The government is confident of reaching a deal with the EU that benefits patients and the NHS is preparing for all situations. We are working closely with partners to ensure adequate stockpiles are in place for all medicines which may be affected in the event of a no deal Brexit.

'Our number one priority is to ensure that patients have access to safe and effective medicines – and we have some of the cheapest drug prices in Europe.'

Last week, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard told the RCGP annual conference 2018 that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit ‘really scares me’.

She said that 'a lot of people’ wanted the college to take a position on a second referendum on the final Brexit deal but, as a charity, the college couldn’t take a party political stance ‘on anything’.

‘It doesn’t stop us having views, it doesn’t stop us caring about our patients,’ she added.

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