Layer 1

Why the DH's Brexit 'shortage protocol' might cripple the sector

"The challenges presented by Brexit have come at a time when there is literally no fat in the system"

Government proposals for pharmacists to dispense alternatives in the event of Brexit medicine shortages may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, says Stuart Gale

Plans announced by the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) will extend the remit of pharmacists, enabling them to dispense alternative medicines in accordance with the protocol and without having to contact a GP. This is a welcome move, but it comes at a time when pharmacy is at breaking point and may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

With Brexit on the horizon, contingency planning for healthcare is in overdrive. We are told not to stockpile and yet it goes on. We are seeing medicines treated like commodities, with the price varying dramatically from the start to the end of the week. Large pharmacies with the available capital are cleaning up, leaving smaller businesses at risk. Prices of well-known medication have doubled and, in some cases, even tripled and any business hoping to remain competitive is having to absorb the cost, destroying what little profit there was.

In isolation, this current situation would be untenable, but it comes on the back of drastic cuts to the sector made over the past two years. These cuts have gone hand in hand with an increase in demands, as pharmacy is invited to step up and ease the pressure on GP and A&E services.

This combination of factors has made it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain trained staff.

The challenges presented by Brexit have come at a time when there is literally no fat in the system and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Patients are starting to show their concern about the continuity of supply, not least because of the media coverage on the subject.

The truth is that no one knows how things will play out. All we can do is reassure people that we will continue to do our best to ensure they receive the most appropriate treatment, seeking alternatives where necessary. Knowing we have the backing of the DH to do this is certainly a step in the right direction.

It would be irresponsible to assume everything will continue uninterrupted, but our job is not to speculate. We are doing all we can to pre-empt any issues and we will continue to manage the situation to the best of our ability with the information we have available.

Pharmacists are incredibly skilled – as well as being trained and ready to help – but we are running on empty. Without the necessary funding one question is clear: If the government does not step in and help, how long will it be before these health experts on the high street become a thing of the past?

Stuart Gale is chief pharmacist, owner and manager of the Frosts Pharmacy Group


Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

I think we are crippled already. We just need to use our walking sticks to beat ourselves up more. I still don’t get why we have to be even be part of FMD. If we are buying stock, it’s the wholesalers who need to sure they are giving us legit stock! 

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

FMD is just another way for the manufacturer s to keep control of markets... I bet they spent a fortune pushing it through the European parliament.
The UK govt don't care... It's another cosh to beat Pharmacies with..

max falconer, Superintendent Pharmacist

FMD is much more likely to cripple the sector not some nebulous shortage protocol. FMD  is a total nonsense and waste of time. We must campaign to stop it!! 


Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

For the most part, I agree. However, one thing FMD will allow is tracking of pharmaceutical stock. If (when?) someone is stockpiling to (allegedly) artificially create a shortage, FMD will allow this to be detected

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

.. and who is going to make sure they’re scanning Ben? 

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

And what can you do about it? They are perfectly within their rights - Pfizer et al werent short of stock while imposing quotas to maintain or increase prices/profits but no one could get them to release it - if they don't care about our criticism, and we have to buy from them, they are in a position of power it's impossible to break

Dave Downham, Manager

Maybe so, Ben, but who's going to do the monitoring? That's a hell of a lot of data to be assessed, digested & interpreted.

Job of the week

Support Pharmacist
Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Heartl
up to £47,500 dependent on hours (30-40 hours flexible)