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‘More to do’: DH to work closely with wholesalers to strengthen drug supply

The government intends “to work ever closer” with wholesalers to “increase the resilience” of the UK’s medicines supply chain, health minister Will Quince has said.

Mr Quince addressed wholesalers through a pre-recorded video message at the Healthcare Distribution Association’s (HDA) annual conference in London last week (January 25).


He thanked HDA members for the “indispensable part” they played during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well their efforts in tackling hormone replacement therapy supply challenges and soaring demand for antibiotics.


Read more: ‘Significant ongoing disruption’: DH issues two new SSPs for HRT


“Receiving timely data from the sector [on these issues] has been critical,” Mr Quince continued, as it allowed the government “to better understand what is happening and how best to manage it”.


“No matter the challenge, we see HDA members rise to the occasion,” the minister said. “You are the experts and, in government, it's our job to enable you to deliver.”


Read more: Antibiotic shortages easing after ‘incredible’ demand, wholesalers confirm


However, he acknowledged that pressures on medicines supply had yet to be solved.


“We know there is more to do to increase the resilience of our medicines supply chains and I pledge our wholehearted support and a commitment to work ever closer with you,” Mr Quince told HDA members.


“We need to make sure our partnership is strong, prepared to face whatever challenges come our way,” he said.


“There is no doubt that there are challenges for the medicine supply chain, which we will need to face together,” he added.



Wholesalers “vital link” to pharmacies



“Supporting the innovation we need to tackle the UK's biggest healthcare challenges” is also a factor in the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) making “working with the wholesale sector a priority”, Mr Quince told the conference.


He referenced the government’s recent partnerships with BioNTech and Moderna to increase access to cancer therapies and cutting-edge mRNA vaccines.


Read more: DH backs cancer vaccine research as landmark pharmacy screening pilot launches


Wholesalers also form “a vital link [to] literally thousands of community pharmacies”, Mr Quince continued.


“We're working on changes to benefit the role of community pharmacies in the medicine supply chain,” he said, including the DH’s consultations on hub and spoke and original pack dispensing.


The minister also recognised wholesalers’ efforts to ensure the continued supply of medicines to Northern Ireland post-Brexit, stating that the DH was seeking “a sustainable, long-term arrangement to address the issues posed by the Northern Ireland protocol”.


It comes after HDA chief executive Martin Sawer told C+D this month that he feared medicine supply to the country might gradually become “uneconomic” for wholesalers without government intervention.


Read more: ‘Slow strangulation’: Drug supply to NI becoming ‘uneconomic’, wholesalers say


C+D also reported that Mr Quince had discussed “escalating problems around medicines supply and their cost” with Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies CEO Leyla Hannbeck in a one-to-one meeting earlier this month.


The minister “pledged” to take Dr Hannbeck’s suggestions forward, including her call for the DH to hold “roundtable meetings involving manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies to discuss how we can introduce reforms to the current system”.

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