The UK government has issued a medicines scheme it says will ensure a “sufficient and seamless” supply of pharmaceutical drugs when the UK withdraws from the European Union (EU) next year.
The blueprint is designed to prevent drug shortages, in the event EU import routes are affected following the March 2019 deadline.
“Under the medicines scheme, pharmaceutical companies should ensure…they have an additional six weeks supply of medicines in the UK on top of their own normal stock levels,” wrote secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, in an open letter Thursday.
MSD (known as Merck in North America) also highlighted its commitment to building medicines reserves in an emailed statement.
“We are taking all the necessary steps to ensure patients in the UK and EU will continue to receive the medicines they need following the UK leaving the EU. This includes reviewing the additional stock of medicines needed to ensure continuous supply to the UK and EU patients over this period,” we were told.
Pfizer said it has not only undertaken work to ensure continuous supply “covering all Brexit scenarios”, but requested a mutual recognition agreement for medicines regulation and supply.
“We have carried out detailed assessments of the supply of all our medicines with the focus on ensuring we will continue to have them available for our patients. Due to the long lead times we have in our supply chains, we are asking the EU and the UK to propose a mutual recognition agreement for medicines regulation and supply, and urge the UK to support this alongside other elements to support longer-term regulatory continuity between the EU and UK,” a Pfizer spokesperson told us.
Flying in short shelf-life meds
Hancock’s letter also drew attention to the UK’s reliance on nuclear-based medicines produced in continental Europe: “The scheme…includes separate arrangements for the air freight of medicines with short shelf-lives, such as medical radioisotopes.”
Radioisotopes are used in nuclear medicine procedures, including in imaging and diagnosis.
According to not-for-profit ‘think tank’, the Institute for Government, “The UK does not have any reactors capable of producing these isotopes and because they decay rapidly – often within a matter of hours or days – hospitals in the UK must rely on a continuous supply from reactors in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
“Without the support of Euratom [the European Atomic Energy Community], the UK may find it harder to guarantee the supply of these materials to hospitals,” the Institute for Government concluded.