Open access article
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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The government has been unable to confirm whether it has extended its warehousing contracts for storing medicine stockpiles beyond the end of June 2020, when they were expected to end.
In a letter sent to the pharmaceutical industry on 31 January 2020, Steve Oldfield, chief commercial officer for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), wrote that “government-secured warehousing capacity will continue to be available to industry until the end of June 2020” as part of its Brexit preparations.
The letter also advised manufacturers that the government no longer required them to maintain the six-week medicine stockpile that it had first requested in August 2018.
However, the DHSC asked manufacturers on 11 February 2020 to retain their Brexit stockpiles as a precaution against shortages arising from the spread of COVID-19 in China.
When asked to clarify whether the warehousing contracts have been extended in light of this request, the DHSC said it would be outlining further details to the pharmaceutical industry soon, but it would not add to the information given in the letter.
“The government continues to prepare for all scenarios and robust contingency plans are in place,” a spokesperson for the DHSC said, adding that a small number of medicines to support treatment of COVID-19 patients are being stockpiled by DHSC to help manage potential shortages during the pandemic.
A pharmaceutical industry memo, reported by the BBC in early June 2020, advised the government to store “critical” COVID-19 medicines as manufacturers warned that stockpiles of some medicines had been “used up entirely” by the pandemic and rebuilding stockpiles in time for a no-deal Brexit may not be feasible.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it did not know the extent to which manufacturers had taken up the government’s offer of warehousing space for stockpiling, initially.
“The extent to which warehousing capacity would be needed would depend on what the government’s asks are this time around,” a spokesperson for the ABPI said, adding that manufacturers are still waiting for guidance on this.
A spokesperson for the manufacturer Teva said that it had not taken up the DHSC’s “offer of warehousing capacity as we had enough capacity with both our own premises and third-party warehouse space that we use”.
The manufacturer Accord Healthcare said it also used its own warehouses, rather than using government-contracted capacity.
“We have been preparing for Brexit for some time and continue to do so,” a spokesperson for the company said.
“While we can’t comment on or predict how future events might affect supply, we can reassure pharmacists and patients that we are monitoring the situation very closely and are working across all the supply chains to mitigate impact, working closely with the DHSC and industry bodies to keep them well informed at all times.”