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Boots parent company forecasts up to £6m loss in post-Brexit Northern Ireland

Boots’ parent company could take a £6 million hit per financial year in Northern Ireland, it has revealed, as it calls for medicines to be removed entirely from legislation requiring the country to abide by EU single market rules.

Walgreens Boots Alliance detailed “significant operational and practical challenges” with the supply of medicines and medical devices after the Northern Ireland protocol came into force at the beginning of 2021, in evidence it submitted to the government in June.

But the health and beauty giant estimated that it could lose up to £6 million in Northern Ireland – which accounts for 5% of the company’ revenue in the country – based on losses it has made in the Republic of Ireland since the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement was implemented.

Read more: EU proposes ‘uninterrupted security of supply of medicines’ in new post-Brexit offer

Walgreens Boots Alliance slammed the “lack of operational and regulatory guidance” regarding the supply chain between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and called for medicines to be removed from the protocol “so that Northern Irish patients can still have easy access to UK-approved medicines”.

It has already had to shell out £250,000 since January 1, 2021, “to manage the additional customs and border control requirements to trade from Great Britain to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”, it said.

The relaxations to the protocol – in place until December 31, 2024 ­– have so far been “helpful” in allowing it to maintain product availability in its 66 community pharmacies in Northern Ireland, the company wrote.

The sub-committee on the Northern Ireland protocol - tasked with monitoring its political and socio-economic impact – spoke to businesses, economists and trade organisations about their experiences since the rules came into force, publishing a report on its findings last week (July 29).


Change in operations


Differences in approved products between the UK and Northern Ireland have also led Boots to take on additional operational costs, Walgreens Boots Alliance wrote.

In some cases, Boots is “not allowed to sell the same products in Great Britain and Northern Ireland” but its “supply chain doesn’t allow [it] to separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK”, it noted.

Read more: NI protocol: ‘There will be generics shortages and price rises without UK-wide licenses’

Boots’ online arm has also faced challenges due to increased customs prices, its parent company said.

Although sends an average of 5,000 parcels each week to customers in Northern Ireland through the Boots website, Walgreens Boots Alliance anticipated having to use “customs brokerage services at an additional cost to help manage the increase in compliance requirements”. It is considering implementing weight restrictions on parcels sent to Northern Ireland.

It forecasted it would have to “change the operational structure of [its] store deliveries”, “increase [its] compliance and regulatory costs” and “manage reduced product availability and increased prices” to address the fallout of the Northern Ireland protocol.


FMD “a challenge”


The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) also submitted evidence to the committee’s enquiry.

Along with Walgreens Boots Alliance, it raised concerns “around “residual issues” pertaining to the Falsified Medicines Directive and the application of EU law for centrally authorised products”.

The NPA also stated that “a number” of medicine suppliers had so far withdrawn from the Northern Ireland market, resulting in “shortages in over the counter and pharmacy only medicines”.

It also called for the removal of medicines from the protocol.


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