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NPA chief: Solve Northern Ireland medicine Brexit issue or face ‘horrific consequences’

The UK “must” maintain the supply of medicines in Northern Ireland or “we’re going to see some pretty horrific consequences”, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chief executive Mark Lyonette has warned.

When asked during a panel session at the Pharmacy Show in Birmingham on Sunday (October 17) what three wishes he had for community pharmacy moving forward into the next year, Mr Lyonette told delegates the “situation” in Northern Ireland is “not a matter of wish”.

“We must make sure we maintain the supply of medicines in Northern Ireland… Otherwise, we're going to see some pretty horrific consequences going forward,” he told delegates.

Currently, under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, which is part of the Brexit deal, Northern Ireland has remained in the EU’s single market for goods. Since January 2021, the protocol has mandated that Northern Ireland must follow EU medicine regulations.

Under this protocol, manufacturers based in Great Britain would need to relocate infrastructure – including testing facilities – or regulatory functions to Northern Ireland or the EU. 

But last Wednesday, the European Commission proposed changes to the Northern Ireland protocol to ensure the long-term “uninterrupted security of supply of medicines” from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This would enable Great Britain to continue acting as a hub for the supply of generic medicines to Northern Ireland from January 2022, even though it is no longer a member of the EU.

The current Northern Ireland protocol has a grace period in place until December 31, allowing Great Britain to continue to supply medicines to Northern Ireland, “with a pragmatic approach to applying EU rules on importation and unique identifier requirements”.

Mr Lyonette told delegates at the Pharmacy Show: “Even though we've got a bit of an extension at the moment, it's not resolved, and we must resolve that problem.

He added: “It’s not a question of whether we want it to happen or not… So, it’s not a matter of wish.”

The UK extended that grace period unilaterally last month (September 6). A week later, British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) CEO Mark Samuels revealed that 910 medicines had already been discontinued in Northern Ireland, while manufacturers had “formally begun the withdrawal process” for more than 2,400 drugs in total.

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