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Industry frustrated by late warning on 'no deal' Brexit disruption

Dover and Folkestone could have 6 months of disruption


The UK government has issued a new warning that there could be disruption of up to six months at Dover in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit – a change of message which has caused the pharma sector to make its frustration clear.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has written to pharma companies today, warning that the government’s previous advice that they build up six weeks’ worth of medicines stockpiles won’t be enough, and that further measures need to be taken.

Around 90% of medicines imported by the UK and the Republic of Ireland arrive via Dover in Kent, and this along with sister port Folkestone could be hit hard by a no deal Brexit.

Hancock said medicines suppliers should look to use alternative routes in the event of disruption on cross-channel routes, including the use of air freight to fly in supplies.

This upgrade in its warning to a no deal Brexit comes just days ahead of a crucial vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday, when MPs are expected to decisively reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal already agreed with the EU.

This will raise the likelihood of a no deal Brexit, as paths to further compromise deals or a second referendum are less than clear-cut. The government says any disruption at Dover will be offset by medicines and medical products (including over the counter medicines) being prioritised on alternative routes.

The new warning has seen pharma industry association the ABPI and the biotech sector’s BIA let their frustration be known. That’s because the sector has been warning the government for months that it needs to co-ordinate more efforts faster, and with clearer details, to minimise any disruption.


The BIA’s chief executive Steve Bates (pictured) said:

“Today’s letter makes clear that the six-week stockpiling activities now needs to be supplemented with additional actions as the cross-Government planning assumptions have been revised,” said the BIA’s chief executive Steve Bates.

The lack of detail in the warning – including how any alternative routes and logistics will be organised – is causing consternation in the sector. It is most afraid of being blamed for any medicines shortages in the event of a no deal Brexit.

Bates continues: “The letter states that there will be significantly reduced access across the shorts straits (Dover/Calais), for up to six months. It makes no specific additional request on companies, but provides very limited information on what additional actions the government is planning beyond working to ensure that there is sufficient roll-on, roll-off freight capacity and that medicines and medical products will be prioritised on alternative routes.”

One reason stockpiling isn’t a complete solution is that many medicines – such as the new CAR-T therapies - have a very short shelf-life, and cannot simply be stored in a warehouse.

In these cases, air routes would need to be used, and the government has pledged financial support in some cases – but details of how this would work remain unavailable, with just 117 days to ‘Brexit day’ on 29 March 2019.

Mike Thompson, Chief Executive of the ABPI, said:

“While we welcome the Secretary of State’s intention to prioritise the flow of medicines and vaccines, we need the detail. With just 16 weeks until the UK leaves the EU, we need the government to take immediate action to open up alternative supply routes between the UK and Europe and tell companies so that they can make plans.”

Steve Bates concluded by saying a ‘no deal’ Brexit would mean the "biggest dis-integration of the complex regulated medicines market across Europe in terms of regulation, cross border movement of goods, comparative pricing and intellectual property."

He said “all participants” needed to be prepared as possible for this worst case scenario, for the sake of patients.

“We should be under no illusions that this will be easy or smooth and today the challenge of ensuring UK medicine supply through 2019 in a No Deal Brexit scenario got harder, not easier.”

Read Matt Hancock’s letter outlining preparations for a ‘no deal’ Brexit and its potential impact on medicines supplies (including clinical trial supplies)and the NHS here.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

7th December 2018

From: Healthcare



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