The UK is still set to leave the European Union on 29th March [although MPs voted this week to ask the EU for an extension]. The government’s contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit are well underway. As an online pharmacy with patients reliant on our services, we have naturally become concerned about the implications of a no-deal Brexit for our business.
In August 2018, health secretary Matt Hancock sent a letter to all pharmaceutical companies, including ours. Mr Hancock requested that pharmaceutical suppliers prepare for a no-deal Brexit by stockpiling a minimum of six weeks' additional supply of medicines in the UK. He also urged pharmacies – including online pharmacies – along with GPs and hospitals, not to stockpile.
The growing fear of unreplenished stocks has caused some unease among businesses, with the worry being that if we run out of supplies, we are wholly reliant on our stockists, who may have an ever-shrinking stockpile, with no way to top it up.
I know of at least one online pharmacy that has chosen to stockpile as a result. However, Click Pharmacy has decided to follow the DH guidance, due to the threat of a potential investigation against any company found stockpiling.
UK-based pharmacies also supply millions of packs of medication to the EU each month. Therefore, we are also having to consider potential complications which could arise from our medicines being shipped out of the country after Brexit – such as delays and price changes.
From our own research in the build-up to Brexit, we heard from a trade association specialising in pharmaceuticals that a no-deal Brexit would mean the disintegration of the trade of medicines with Europe. The future still feels extremely unclear.
It has been positive to hear that supply issues are being reviewed and taken seriously, with the DH prioritising over-the-counter medicines reaching and leaving the UK. This means in theory our customers can still be serviced by us, even in the event of a no-deal scenario. But no one in the industry feels completely at ease.
The most worrying aspect is that we have been asked not to contact our suppliers directly with any concerns over our ongoing supply, which leaves us feeling somewhat out of control of our company’s future. Many in this industry feel that our businesses, our customers' health and our livelihoods are at the mercy of Brexit – and the government’s ability to deal with it successfully.
Aqib Sheikh is head pharmacist at Click Pharmacy