Brexit could lead to a major nationwide shortage of pharmacists available for work, the chief executive of the organisation that represents multiple high street and supermarket pharmacies has warned.
Malcolm Harrison, who leads the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), said the number of pharmacists from the European Economic Area (EEA) registering with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to practise in the UK had fallen by 80% since the Brexit vote, and he warned that owing to this, alongside other factors, shortages could become “more of a problem”.
A report for the GPhC council, published in June 2017, identified a significant fall in the number of pharmacist registrations from the EEA, which it said “potentially reflects the impact of Brexit”. At the time of the Brexit vote, at the end of June 2016, there were 3,445 pharmacists from the EEA on the GPhC register.
In a blog for the CCA — whose members comprise Boots, LloydsPharmacy, Rowlands, Well, Superdrug, Tesco, Morrisons and Asda — Harrison said fewer students have been entering UK pharmacy schools; there is now a wider range of roles that newly-qualified pharmacists can fill; and that pharmacists are still included in the Home Office’s tier-two immigration visa cap, which limits the number of visas given to skilled workers. Doctors and nurses were taken out of the cap in June 2018.
“Unless something changes, the shortage of pharmacists will become more of a problem,” he wrote.
Harrison also warned that the huge Brexit burden for the government and parliament has led to delays in other policies that affect pharmacy.
“Other matters, such as NHS reform and the rebalancing of pharmacy legislation, have been very much put on a back burner,” he wrote.
“When Brexit is complete, government will be left with a mammoth backlog of legislative work.”
Harrison also warned of the possibility of delays for medicines being held at UK border crossings if the UK leaves the EU with no agreed deal.
“If we were to end up with a ‘no deal’ situation, then the ability to freely move medicines across our borders could be significantly impacted,” he said.
“A scenario in which lorries full of medicines await customs inspection at Folkestone or Dover could severely impact the availability of medicines for the most vulnerable in our society.”
The chair of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has also warned of the danger to patients if the government is not “pragmatic and clear-sighted” on Brexit negotiations around the pharmaceutical industry.
Commenting on the government’s response to the committee’s report on the impact of Brexit on the pharmaceutical industry, MP Rachel Reeves, said: “Pharmaceuticals is the sector for which UK/EU market access is the most important. It’s welcome that, in their response to our report, the government acknowledges this reality and the fact that the pharma industry is reliant on friction-free border movement for their products. But we are now reaching the eleventh hour of Brexit negotiations.
“Any obstacles to friction-free trade would inflict serious damage. Delays faced by short-life pharmaceuticals for emergency treatments would have a hugely detrimental impact on patients.”