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New government strategy to tackle medicines supply chain issues

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) has issued a new supply chain strategy seeking to “mitigate” medicines supply shocks, it has announced.

A new government supply chain strategy will “minimise the impact of shocks” to medicines import and other “critical” imported goods, the DBT announced last week (January 17).

The executive summary to the strategy said that imported goods like “the medicines that are used daily within the NHS” are “critical to ensuring the UK’s economy, essential services and national security”.

And DBT minister Nusrat Ghani added that the strategy aims to make “supply chains stronger” so that UK businesses would no longer have to “rely on unpredictable partners for supplies of the goods that keep our country going”. 

Read more: Pharmaceutical supplies ‘could be affected’ by striking wholesale workers

According to the DBT’s latest trade in numbers statistical release, updated last week (January 19), medicinal and pharmaceutical products were among the UK’s largest imports and exports by value.

In the year ending in November 2023, the UK exported £26.2 billion worth of medicinal and pharmaceutical products - the third largest sector for exports - and in the same time period imported £25.6bn of these goods - the sixth largest sector for imports.


Five priorities


The strategy set out five priorities for securing supply chains, including:

  • Making the government “a centre of excellence for supply chain analysis and risk assessment”
  • “Removing critical import barriers”
  • Making the UK more responsive to “global supply chain shocks”
  • Making the country adaptive to “long-term trends”
  • Improving “collaboration between government, business and academia”

The government said that it will develop “insights” using “the power of data and technology” to help it “mitigate” short term supply shocks and “adapt” to the changing global economy.

Read more: Diabetes injection pen shortage to persist until ‘at least’ end of 2024

Medicines feature heavily in the strategy’s approach to dealing with “supply chain shocks”, which stated that the government has a “unique role” as a coordinator of a response to shocks “across sectors”.

The strategy said that the NHS will implement “multiple supplier framework agreements”, which it said will “improve security of supply”.

It also noted that the government will take “supply chain resilience” into account when awarding contracts, favouring “developing available buffer stocks on British soil”. 

Read more: Pharmacies field calls from 'anxious' patients as ADHD med shortages persist

It added that medicines shortages can be identified and responded to using “well established mechanisms” such as the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) national supply disruption response, which “acts as a single point of contact” when medicines supply options have been “exhausted”.

The strategy said that the government is “continuously” strengthening medicines supply with “targeted domestic manufacturing investments”.

Read more: New five-year drugs pricing deal could lead to shortages, warns BGMA

However, MP and pharmacist Taiwo Owatemi flagged in September that “oversights” in the negotiated exit from the European Union (EU) meant that the EU does not recognise UK-produced generics. 

She said that generics manufacturers were “unable to compete” with their continental rivals and had “no incentive to compete”, adding that while the EU had invested “about £20bn” in generics manufacturing since Brexit, the UK had invested nothing.


Industry approval


The UK “critical imports and supply chains strategy” was developed with the input of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) among “more than 100 top UK firms”, according to the DBT. 

ABPI chief executive Richard Torbett said that the strategy would help UK patients to have “consistent access to medicines”. 

Read more: The problem unveiled: Reporting medicine shortages

Mr Torbett said that “recent global events” such as the COVID-19 pandemic had shown that the pharmaceutical industry could “manage and address global supply chain shocks”, particularly when in collaboration with the government.

He added that the new strategy will support the pharmaceutical industry to “maintain resilient supply chains”.


Worsening shortages


Shortages of critical and popular medicines have been big news of late.

This month, the DH announced that supply issues for glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs), which are used to manage blood glucose levels in people with type two diabetes, will continue “until at least the end of 2024”.

Read more: HRT prescriptions in England spiked almost 50% in a year

And in December, C+D reported that supply issues for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication from manufacturer Takeda are expected to continue until April 2024, which saw pharmacy teams react with dismay.

It also comes as the Guardian this month reported that medicine shortages in the UK “have doubled in the past two years”, according to British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) analysis of UK government and NHS data.

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