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Pharmacy stockpiling ahead of Brexit will be investigated, DH warns

Pharmacies caught over-ordering medicines ahead of Brexit will be investigated, but manufacturers should stockpile six weeks’ worth of supplies, the government has said.

In a letter published yesterday (August 23), health secretary Matt Hancock warned community pharmacies, as well as hospitals and GPs, not to stockpile any medicines ahead of Brexit, and said “there is also no need for clinicians to write longer NHS prescriptions”.

“Local stockpiling is not necessary and any incidences involving the over-ordering of medicines will be investigated and followed up with the relevant chief or responsible pharmacist directly,” Mr Hancock stressed.

However, Mr Hancock said “pharmaceutical companies should ensure they have an additional six weeks' supply of medicines in the UK on top of their own normal stock levels”, in case the UK and the European Union fail to secure a deal ahead of Brexit next March.

As part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) “medicines supply contingency planning programme” – setting out the government’s preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit – it has also asked pharmaceutical companies “to ensure they have plans in place to air freight [short shelf-life] products” whose import routes through the EU may be affected.

Supply issue concerns

The Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) said it “supports” the government’s proposals, and that its members are “well-versed in managing demand challenges”.

However it warned that “any stockpiling [should] be carefully managed in order to avoid challenges such as medicines shortages, caused by changes in purchasing patterns”.

Warwick Smith, director general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA), said the proposals show a “welcome determination” from the government to “ensure [the] continued supply [of medicines] to British patients”.

It is “wise to plan for appropriate stockpiling of medicines to deal with possible delays at the borders”, he added.

“We don’t see a problem with generics coming into the UK from non-European countries. The problem is stuff that gets trucked [via the English] channel, where the trucks might be delayed,” he told C+D.

“So if you’re putting your stuff on a ship in Mumbai and it comes into Felixstowe, that is not an issue. If it comes into Rotterdam, or is manufactured in Poland and trucked across Europe, that is an issue.

“That is why the government has proposed that there should be an extra six weeks' supply.”

DH response

The DH told C+D this morning that it is “currently asking [wholesalers and manufacturers] to provide specific information on their stockpiling programmes to gauge how prepared the industry is already”.

“We have put in place a dedicated team to support suppliers in making arrangements for stockpiling and we will work with companies to develop plans to minimise any additional costs of stockpiling,” it added.

Pharmacy Brexit forum

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has been working alongside other pharmacy bodies, and the government, on the “important discussions” around “secur[ing] the supply of medicines to pharmacies and patients”, it said yesterday.

PSNC has invited the DH to attend the first meeting of its Brexit forum, which was set up “to identify issues and concerns that Brexit may present”. The forum will also monitor the impact of the stockpiling contingency plans on medicines prices, it added.

PSNC CEO Simon Dukes said: “There will be operational issues to explore for community pharmacies, and [the] Brexit forum will…ensur[e] that all pharmacy contractors have the information they need as we approach the Brexit deadline.”

Have you any experience of stockpiling?

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