The UK government has urged pharmaceutical suppliers to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines and drugs to safeguard against any possible disruptions during the Brexit transitions period, and a potential no-deal in the EU talks. However, pharmaceutical firms have warned that this could be impossible due to the pandemic.

In an open letter sent on Monday 3 August, Steve Oldfield, chief commercial officer at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) urged pharmaceutical suppliers to make medicare stockpiles a priory, despite the ‘significant pressure’ that global supply chains are under due to the coronavirus, reports the Independent.

Mr Oldfield said that where possible, suppliers should stockpile to ‘a target level of six weeks’ total stock on UK soil and that the DHSC is ‘ready to support companies with their plans if required’.

The DHSC says it understands and appreciates that a ‘flexible approach to preparedness may be required that considers a mixture of stockpiling and rerouting plans as necessary.’

The open letter comes as the UK prepares for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit as the transition period end date of 31 December 2020 draws ever nearer, with no sign of a deal being agreed upon.

Mr Oldfield’s letter explains that the ‘new border and customs procedures [will] apply, regardless of whether the UK and EU agree to the ambitious free trade agreement that the government is seeking to negotiate.’

Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), voiced her concerns about a potential no-deal Brexit, particularly during the pandemic, causing one of the most challenging times in the entire history of the NHS.

She said: “It’s vital the UK and EU agree a deal on medicines regulation as soon as possible, to support our world-leading life sciences sector and ensure patients can get the medicines they need.”

She added that with the coming winter as well as the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19, the government needs to consider all the options to construct a prudent contingency plan for supporting patient care.

A spokesperson for the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that almost the same contingency plans were put in place in 2019 when the possibility of a hard Brexit seemed inevitable.

But with the extra pressures that the coronavirus pandemic has placed on pharmaceutical supply chains, there are depletions in some stocks, and spikes in demand for some medicines.

“Nobody knows for sure what will happen at the end of the transition period. But one thing we can guarantee is pharmacists will be working hard to get people their medicines, come what may,” said the NPA spokesperson.

The British Medical Association (BMA) warned in late 2019 that a shortage of medicine would have a ‘significant impact’ on patients when government figures revealed that almost a fifth of medicine suppliers had yet to create a six-week stockpile in the event of a hard Brexit.

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