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NPA: Government must act to stop medicine shortages in post-Brexit NI

The NPA is calling on the government to prevent medicines shortages in Northern Ireland
The NPA is calling on the government to prevent medicines shortages in Northern Ireland

The government should implement “robust” plans to ensure patients in Northern Ireland can still access medicines once the Brexit transition period ends, the NPA has said.

In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove last week (October 27), National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chair Andrew Lane said the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement as it stands could pose a threat to the medicines supply chain in Northern Ireland.

“In the interests of ensuring the continuity of medicine supply to patients, value for money for the taxpayer and the financial stability of the community pharmacy sector in Northern Ireland, the NPA believes that the UK government should seek to apply robust mitigation to the medicines supply chain from December 31, 2020 for a period of at least 18 months,” the letter said.

Last month (October 6), the UK FMD Working Group for Community Pharmacy – whose members include the NPA, the Company Chemists’ Association and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) – called for government action to ensure there are no medicine shortages in Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period.

“Healthcare without suitable medicines”

Under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland will be required to continue to comply with the EU medicines regulations that will no longer apply in the rest of the UK.

The NPA fears that the “additional cost” and the “complexity of getting medicines into Northern Ireland [will result in] some manufacturers not bringing products to the market”, Mr Lane said.

The knock-on effect for the Northern Irish market could be “reduced stock being available, leading to medicine shortages and an increase in the procurement costs”, he added.

The NPA also criticised the lack of clarity on the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD), which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the Brexit transition period ends on December 31. At the moment, there is no “clear plan” for what the transition “from the UK-wide system into one that serves only Northern Ireland” will look like, Mr Lane said in the letter.

“It is highly likely that manufacturers of medicines, particularly generic medicines, will simply stop producing packs that meet the requirements for supply in Northern Ireland, resulting in medicines shortages for patients,” he added.

Mr Lane urged for Mr Gove “and the Prime Minister to address this issue before patients, carers, pharmacist and GPs are having to provide healthcare without suitable medicines”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) told C+D yesterday (November 2) that it is “working closely with the health and care system, suppliers, industry and the devolved administrations to put in place robust measures to help ensure the continued supply of medicines and medical products to the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, at the end of the transition period”.

In August, the UK government asked manufacturers and wholesalers to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines in preparation for “potential disruption” at the end of the transition period.

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