As Britain prepares for a no-deal Brexit on 31st October, the government has revealed it is stockpiling 7,000 medicines amid fears there will be shortages.
Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, fears have been heightened that Britain will be leaving the EU with no trade deal in place. The PM has said Brexit will happen on that day, whether or not a deal has been reached with the EU.
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One area that looks set to be affected is healthcare. The UK relies heavily on medicines from the EU. According to a white paper published in 2018 by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, 73% of pharmaceutical imports come from the EU.
This means around 37 million packets of medicines are being brought in from the EU every month, with a total value of £18.3 billion. The 7,000 pharmacy and prescription-only medicines that may be in short supply post-Brexit have been the topic of government debate, with contingency arrangements being made to prepare for a no-deal exit.
The Department of Health and Social Care has liaised with healthcare system representatives to analyse around 12,300 licensed medicines currently used in Britain. Some of them can be difficult to get hold of and expensive to produce, so the supply from the EU is vital.
The government has asked the manufacturers who supply the 7,000 medicines in jeopardy to provide a six-week buffer stock in the event of problems. Health minister Stephen Hammond said earlier this year that most of the companies had confirmed plans to stockpile were in place.
The government has also arranged for two cross-channel ferry operators, who run routes to Portsmouth, Poole, Plymouth, Felixstowe and Immingham, to ship medicines from the EU to Britain. Further discussions are underway to ascertain how many suppliers will take up this option.
In addition to the 7,000 pharmaceutical medicines under threat, a further 500 over-the-counter medicines may also be in short supply. The government has been liaising with NHS England to find out the health conditions that they help to treat and work out a post-Brexit contingency plan for the over-the-counter remedies.
The plan is to ensure the UK has six weeks’ worth of medicines stockpiled in case of problems. So far, according to GPs, members of the public haven’t been trying to stockpile medication themselves.
Patients have been expressing their fears to their doctors, who have called this a “critical phase” of Brexit, in terms of the possible medicines shortage.
Pharmacists and their staff have reported an increasing number of worried patients asking if they will still be able to get their medication after Britain leaves the EU. While stockpiling in the short term is an option, in the longer term, medication has a “use by” date, so it can’t be stored too far into the future.
The British government is also working with governments overseas to try and ensure a common approach is taken, should an announcement be made that there are serious shortages.
Although ministers say there can be “no guarantees”, they remain “confident” that if everyone involved in the supply chain pulls together and does what’s required of them, the supply of medicines should be uninterrupted.
Fears that the Prime Minister will let Britain leave the EU without a trade deal have led MPs to launch legal action to prevent Johnson from forcing a no-deal Brexit through.
More than 70 MPs and peers have backed a legal bid to prevent him from suspending Parliament so that a no-deal Brexit can be forced through while the government isn’t in session. The cross-party group of protesters has argued it would be illegal and unconstitutional to allow this to happen.
The court hearing to investigate their allegations is due to take place on Friday 6th September. The case hinges on whether Johnson will be breaching constitutional law, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019 and the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, if he asks the Queen to discontinue the session of Parliament.
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