In a letter to the House of Lords EU affairs subcommittee this month, health minister Stephen Hammond said that European transportation routes via Dover and/or Folkstone - upon which medicine manufacturers and suppliers rely - may be ‘subject to a significantly reduced flow of goods for at least six months rather than the previous estimate of six weeks of disruption’.
He added: ‘The possible border delays indicated in the updated planning assumptions would impact any import of medicines, including prescription-only and pharmacy medicines, critical to the continuity of patient care. It would also impact UK manufacturers of medicines that may rely on the import of raw materials from or via the EU. Therefore, we have asked all suppliers to consider their supply routes and whether any re-routing to avoid the short straits is necessary.’
His words came in response to concerns raised by committee chair Lord Jay of Ewelme, who gave the DHSC 10 days to provide clarity on the supply of medicines and medical devices in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Hammond said the department was preparing ‘further communication’ with suppliers which will include guidance on ‘re-routing their medicines and other medical products in a no-deal scenario’. Correspondence will also be circulated ‘imminently’ with advice on how to access ‘additional roll-on, roll-off ferry capacity’, including registration details.
This follows warnings from leading diabetes charities last week, which said they had ‘still not seen the concrete detail needed to reassure us – or people with diabetes – that the UK government’s plans are robust enough to guarantee no impact on insulin and medicine supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit’.
Addressing questions from the House of Lords on whether there was a programme in place to ensure the ‘continuity of supply for centrally-procured vaccines and other products... used for urgent public health use’, Mr Hammond added that the DHSC was working to ensure ‘that there are sufficient stockpiles of vaccines for other NHS and non-NHS uses outside of the national vaccination programmes, such as for travel and occupational health purposes’.
Last month, GPs voiced concern over a spike in medicine shortages that is driving up practice workload and resulting in stress for patients.
Although the supply of medicines is constantly fluctuating, GPs and pharmacists across the UK have been speculating on whether the increase in the number of common medicines becoming unavailable could be linked to ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
The BMA also voiced concerns last month that existing issues with medicine shortages could be ‘exacerbated’ by a no-deal Brexit. However, a DHSC spokesperson said there was ‘no evidence’ that this was the case, adding that any problems were probably ‘due to manufacturing or distribution issues’.