Pharmacists have been told not to stockpile medicines before the end of the Brexit transition period, which will happen on 31 December 2020.
Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, wrote to all community and hospital pharmacists on 10 December 2020, warning them that local stockpiles could put extra pressure on the UK medicines supply chain, and calling on them to explain to patients that prescriptions should be ordered as normal as the Brexit transition period comes to an end.
The letter comes as Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, was reported as saying that the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal in place was now the most likely outcome, despite weeks of negotiations.
Ridge’s letter instructs pharmacists to report any medicines shortages that do occur after the transition period, and asks them to ensure that their organisation shares this information with fellow clinicians.
Warwick Smith, director general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that in advance of the transition date, his organisation’s members had rebuilt medicines stockpiles that had first been created when the UK left the EU but run down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The thing we can do least about is disruption at the UK border, so manufacturers have built up stockpiles that will buy time if there is disruption at the short straits ports in the Channel,” he said.
“Manufacturers have also bought up space on longer ferry routes, which are more expensive and take longer to reach the UK, but beyond that they are reliant on the procedures that will be put in place by the UK government and authorities on the other side of the Channel.
“But this will apply whether there is a free trade agreement or not, and we are already seeing some delays on both sides of the Channel, whether this is to do with Christmas, COVID-19, or planning for Brexit transition at the end of the year.”
Smith said he was disappointed that reports he received from Brussels suggested that the EU had refused to consider a mutual recognition agreement on medicines testing and inspection between the UK and EU, which could be agreed outside any trade deal.
“This is only what I’m hearing from colleagues in Brussels, but it does seem that the EU is unwilling to go there,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: “Since day one we have urged both sides to work to secure a deal, including an agreement on medicines, which is in the best long-term interests of patients across Europe.
“Pharmaceutical companies have been doing everything in their power to prepare for new border arrangements amidst this global pandemic. That includes getting to grips with new customs paperwork, planning alternative supply routes away from forecast disruptions and increasing stocks where possible.”