Despite the Brexit deadline being just four months away, the important issue of how leaving the European Union could affect the country’s access to necessary drugs and medical equipment is still a cause for concern.
Yesterday, the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee sent a letter to Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, asking for clarity on the contingency plan regarding post-Brexit medicine access.
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This follows an evidence session the Committee held with witnesses from Nuffield Trust, British Association of European Pharmaceutical Distributors and evidence given by officials from DHSC during a private briefing, in which several people voiced concerns over the logistics of ensuring the UK’s access to medicine is not disrupted.
This suggests that there is still a real concern among government that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the medical supply chain could be negatively affected.
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The Government’s current advice is for those in the industry to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines and medical products. However, issues arise with medicines with a short shelf life, which would need to be flown in to keep up with demand.
Post-Brexit medicine is an issue those in the medical community have frequently raised, with the council chair of the British Medical Association warning that a no-deal outcome could be a ‘disaster’ for patients earlier this month.
The letter asks for clarity on crucial issues surrounding access to medical supplies after March 2019. It asks whether the contingency planning will “remove all risk of disruption” and if the additional cost of flying in medical supplies and the need for additional storage has been taken into account.
The Healthcare Distribution Association estimates that 45% of all medicines in the UK are imported from the EU, meaning any disruption could have an impact on both sides, and means that making the government’s current contingency plan a reality could be complex.
The letter also asked for clarity on what was being done to ensure that medicines and medical products would be given priority at the border to avoid delays.
Impacts to new medicines?
Another issue concerning the medical community in the UK is whether Brexit could deter drug companies from choosing to introduce new products to market in the UK, thus affecting access to cutting-edge medicine.
Last month The Independent reported that UK patients have been cut from an international clinical trial to test a new heart attack drug because of uncertainties about registering new medicines after Brexit, realising concerns that the UK could miss out on involvement in future medical research.
The letter therefore asks what analysis the Government has conducted on the impact to the UK economy and employment caused by companies shifting their licensing activities from the UK to the EU.
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It also raises the issue of medicine shortages. Currently, manufacturers can easily move products from one EU country to another to meet need. Losing this flexibility could mean that shortages of medicines in the UK may be harder to manage.
Requesting a response within ten working days, it is clear from the letter that there is still much confusion over post-Brexit medicine access, something that needs urgent clarification from Government over the next few months.