There are not enough cold-chain warehouses in the UK to ensure the supply of medicines, such as insulin or vaccines, in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, and it could take up to a year to build new ones, MPs have heard.
In an evidence session held by the Health and Social Care Committee in the House of Commons on 23 October 2018, Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, told MPs that medicines are currently “more advanced than any other sector”, but that the government “needs to press the button now” to ensure more cold-chain storage was put in place.
“We know that there is not enough cold-chain warehousing in the UK today to cover the stockpiling we have been asked to build. So, there is a request into government to support the building of additional cold -chain supply,” he said, adding that half of the new medicines that were approved in 2017, including biologics and vaccines, required cold-chain storage.
“We are saying to government you need to press the button now. Normally this would take longer than six months to build and get it signed off. I guess some of this can be truncated, but we very much believe that we are up against the deadline now.”
Sir Michael Rawlins, chair of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, told The Pharmaceutical Journal in July 2018 that insulin supply could be disrupted in the face of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit as it required cold storage.
Martin Sawer, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association, said that it is in discussions with the government about converting cold storage from the food industry, as building new cold-chain warehouses takes a long time: “You are talking more than a year. From my experience, they usually plan it for two years ahead of time.”
But in evidence to the same committee of MPs, Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, insisted that preparations were on track to ensure enough cold storage in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“I don’t accept the premise that it takes a year to put up refrigerated sheds. Not least because we can use storage that is already existing, that is part of our tendering; also we can convert space to medical storage standards, which currently isn’t,” he said.
“It may be the case that someone has an example that it has taken a year, but you can do it quicker.”