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Brexit Threatens Pharmaceutical Crisis, Patients Stockpiling Medicine

Will patients in the UK have access to necessary medications if no deal can be reached in Brexit?

While businesses across the entire UK are bracing for impact, perhaps none are bracing more than pharmaceutical companies. A shortage of medicines could have dire consequences. In the European Union, pharmaceuticals are very heavily regulated, and as such, the supply chain across countries is extremely complex.

As a result, not only are individuals stockpiling drugs, so are drug companies like the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis.

Brexit Has A Huge Impact

Novartis has gone on record saying a no-deal Brexit would be “hugely impactful” for patients, and as such the company has said it is stockpiling drugs. Novartis typically exports 120 million packets of medicine to the UK each year, but is concerned about a disruption in supply if there is no Brexit deal. Therefore, the company is doing what they can to increase UK inventories across their entire portfolio of medicines. Roche, a fellow Swiss drugmaker, is doing the same.

To prepare for a chaotic Brexit scenario, Novartis has been stockpiling medications inside the UK to stay on track with delivering the 120 million packs it exports to Britain from Europe each year.

Novartis is a giant pharmaceutical company; in fact, by revenue, they are the world’s fifth largest, and as such, they make a wide range of medications like Cosentyx, a medicine for the autoimmune disorder psoriasis, and Gilenya for multiple sclerosis. The company is a major supplier to the UK’s National Health Service.

Novartis has been urging UK lawmakers for some time to “rapidly implement a comprehensive continuity plan” to ensure that patients continue to obtain their medications. In particular, Novartis is urging the UK government to put a plan in place to clarify customs arrangements to minimize disruption at the border.

So What Is the UK Doing?

First, Britain has asked pharmaceutical companies to produce an extra six weeks of medicines to plan for a potential disruption in supply, but the companies pushed back, saying that meeting the goal would be very difficult. Instead, the companies are urging the government to make medication disruption and cooperation between EU countries the highest priority in the event of a hard Brexit.

In October, the head of UK’s pharmaceutical association said that stockpiling by companies like Novartis would be helpful, but still not enough to cope with the massive problem that may occur in the UK. Furthermore, patients have been encouraged to stockpile their own medications – something the NHS and Novartis are not happy about because the agency said it could exacerbate or lead to shortages if enough patients stockpile. Britain’s top doctors have urged NHS ministers to reveal current national drug stock numbers because patient stockpiling is becoming so rampant.

Instead, the NHS has been telling pharmacists to have a contingency plan, including tasks like prioritizing medications. The NHS is also preparing to use alternate routes of transportation to get medications into the UK. The government has been studying mechanisms by which all drugs enter the UK to develop the plan. Novartis agrees with the NHS, recommending that individual pharmacists not stockpile but instead let the NHS manage a central supply to reduce risk of shortages across the UK.

As if pharmaceutical imports are not enough for Britons to worry about, the UK exports 45 million packs of medication each month to other European countries. More than 2,600 drugs have some stage of manufacture in Britain, and 45 million patient packs are supplied from the UK to other European countries each month, while another 37 million flow in the opposite direction, industry figures show.

GlaxoSmithKline is Britain’s largest drugmaker, and the company has been increasing inventory, adding additional warehouse space and amending import licenses to protect its supply chains – at a cost of 50 to 70 million pounds per year.

Britain must leave the EU on March 29 – Brexit deal or not, and with Prime Minister Theresa May and Parliament in deadlock, companies like Novartis, which would normally avoid becoming involved in national politics, are grabbing the megaphone.

Increasingly in the UK, the situation is one of “everyone for themselves” as the nation is two months away from Brexit with no real deal in sight.


Jacqueline Havelka

Jacqueline is a rocket scientist turned writer. She covers health, science and tech news for Citizen Truth. In her first career, she managed experiments & data on the Space Station & Shuttle.

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