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Minister reveals medicines stockpiling plan for No Deal Brexit

Hancock says plans being made - but will come at a cost

Matt Hancock

New health secretary Matt Hancock has revealed that his government department is working with the pharmaceutical industry on plans for stockpiling medicines in case of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, which could see huge delays to medicines shipments to and from the European Union.

Speaking to the House of Commons health select committee yesterday, Mr Hancock said: “I’ve asked the [Health and Social Care] department to work on options for stockpiling by industry, and we are working with industry to prepare for the potential need for stockpiling in the event of ‘no deal’ Brexit.”

Some major companies have already disclosed that they are working on stockpiling in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit occurring when the UK leaves the EU on 29 March next year.

These include MSD and AstraZeneca, with others such as GSK also investing in new facilities in Europe to work round new regulatory barriers which would spring up in the event of no last-minute deal being struck.

The health secretary stressed that the government is looking to avoid a No Deal scenario, but said that it was no accelerating these contingency plans.

“The department is working up options with industry for stockpiling medicines, medical devices and substances of human origin in the case of a no-deal Brexit,” he told the cross-party committee of MPs.

However he added: “Obviously there will be a cost to this.”  This cost will be borne not just by the NHS and the taxpayer, but also by pharmaceutical companies big and small, as the UK edges ever closer to Brexit day without a deal.

Trying to adapt the hugely complex existing medicines supply chain, which frequently sees products cross back and forth across EU borders numerous times from manufacturing to delivery to the patient, is creating a huge headache for the pharma industry and NHS alike.

37 million packs of medicine arrive in the UK from the EU and 45 million move the other way every month.

Particular problems will be posed by 'just in time' delivery schedules and medicines with short shelf-lives and complicated storage requirements.

The ABPI’s Mike Thompson expressed great displeasure at the chaos surrounding Brexit at the industry association’s annual meeting earlier this year. He indicated that having to plan for several different scenarios meant a drain on pharma company budgets and resources.

The ABPI hasn’t yet commented on the health secretary’s remarks – but the pro-Brexit wing of the Conservative party were quick to respond yesterday, claiming his comments were scaremongering.

The BBC’s Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt reported on last night’s programme that there had been a very strong response from Brexiteers.

“I spoke to one source in the European Research Group (ERG), the main Brexit group [in the Conservative party] who said Matt Hancock’s remarks this afternoon were weaponising the ‘no deal’ preparations.”

Also appearing on the programme was Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP and Chair of the Health Select Committee.  She supported Mr Hancock’s emphasis on the need for a clear contingency plan

“We need to be planning in advance of how we could step up obtaining those supplies form elsewhere if needs be.”

The UK would have to revert to WTO rules on medicines tariffs between it and the EU, however the WTO registry of medicines hasn’t been updated for several years, meaning many newer medicines wouldn’t be covered by this arrangement.

The ABPI and its biotech industry equivalent say it is ‘essential’ for the UK to participate in the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after Brexit, and if close alignment could be secured, this would address many of the current uncertainties.

Conservative party rebels recently secured a House of Commons victory which means the government must make continuing EMA membership one of its key aims in the negotiations with the EU27 – however this looks to be incompatible with leaving the customs union and single market, one of the government’s so-called ‘red lines’.

Responding to the health secretary’s remarks, Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, which represents both the NHS and life sciences sector.

“The government must now reveal the contingency plans that are being drawn up,” he said.

“This has to be the number one priority. We may be able to accept delays for some goods crossing borders, but that is simply not acceptable for medicines and other materials on which patients rely every day. Whatever happens in the negotiations, there is an absolute requirement on all those in office to make sure that patients continue to receive the medicines and the treatment they need.

“This is real. In the modern NHS many supplies are delivered on a ‘just in time’ basis. For example, a hospital will receive materials today for use in operations tomorrow. We simply cannot allow a situation where supplies simply stop or dry up. We can avoid this but getting solid plans in place to cope with every eventuality will be vital.”

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

25th July 2018

From: Regulatory

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