Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for NHS England, has urged pharmacists to “consider the consequences for patients” if they stockpile medicines in advance of Brexit against government advice.
In a letter sent to pharmacists on 17 January 2019, Ridge summarised government contingency plans in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, including the development of an industry-led six-week stockpile of medicines and the contracting of additional warehouse space to house it.
The letter also outlined the use of “alternative transport routes” for prioritised medicines “to maximise the ability for supply to continue unimpeded after 29 March 2019”.
These prioritised medicines include “prescription-only medicines and pharmacy medicines, general sales list medicines and unlicensed medicines, including specials and investigational medicinal products used in clinical trials and vaccines”.
As part of a “serious shortage protocol”, the government is also set to implement legislation enabling community pharmacies to dispense alternative medicines without having to first check with the patient’s prescriber.
Ridge said that, in light of the government’s plans, “it is not helpful or appropriate for anyone to stockpile medicines locally”.
He continued: “Registered pharmacy professionals must always consider the consequences for patients of their actions.
“As we know from managing normal medicines shortages, instances of individual organisations stockpiling can risk additional pressure on the availability of medicines for patients in other areas of the country.”
His comments follow a warning made before Christmas 2018 by Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), that parts of the medicines supply chain were stockpiling drugs in anticipation of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit against the government’s advice.
On 23 August 2018, Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, wrote to community pharmacies, GPs and other NHS organisations saying that any local stockpiling would be “investigated and followed up with the relevant chief or responsible pharmacist directly”.
Responding to Keith Ridge’s letter, Dukes said: “Much of this work, and particularly the preparation for the introduction of serious shortage protocols, is complex, and the PSNC will continue to work to represent community pharmacies’ interests in the ongoing dialogue.
“As uncertainty over Brexit continues we can expect to see continued pressure on the medicines supply chain, and we will work closely with [local pharmaceutical committees], other national pharmacy organisations and the government to try to ensure that the impact on pharmacies and their patients is minimised.”