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Why the DH's Brexit 'shortage protocol' might cripple the sector

Government proposals for pharmacists to dispense alternatives in the event of Brexit medicine shortages may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, says Stuart Gale

Plans announced by the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) will extend the remit of pharmacists, enabling them to dispense alternative medicines in accordance with the protocol and without having to contact a GP. This is a welcome move, but it comes at a time when pharmacy is at breaking point and may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

With Brexit on the horizon, contingency planning for healthcare is in overdrive. We are told not to stockpile and yet it goes on. We are seeing medicines treated like commodities, with the price varying dramatically from the start to the end of the week. Large pharmacies with the available capital are cleaning up, leaving smaller businesses at risk. Prices of well-known medication have doubled and, in some cases, even tripled and any business hoping to remain competitive is having to absorb the cost, destroying what little profit there was.

In isolation, this current situation would be untenable, but it comes on the back of drastic cuts to the sector made over the past two years. These cuts have gone hand in hand with an increase in demands, as pharmacy is invited to step up and ease the pressure on GP and A&E services.

This combination of factors has made it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain trained staff.

The challenges presented by Brexit have come at a time when there is literally no fat in the system and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Patients are starting to show their concern about the continuity of supply, not least because of the media coverage on the subject.

The truth is that no one knows how things will play out. All we can do is reassure people that we will continue to do our best to ensure they receive the most appropriate treatment, seeking alternatives where necessary. Knowing we have the backing of the DH to do this is certainly a step in the right direction.

It would be irresponsible to assume everything will continue uninterrupted, but our job is not to speculate. We are doing all we can to pre-empt any issues and we will continue to manage the situation to the best of our ability with the information we have available.

Pharmacists are incredibly skilled – as well as being trained and ready to help – but we are running on empty. Without the necessary funding one question is clear: If the government does not step in and help, how long will it be before these health experts on the high street become a thing of the past?

Stuart Gale is chief pharmacist, owner and manager of the Frosts Pharmacy Group


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