Britain is due to leave the European Union in 10 weeks’ time but it still has no clear way out of the bloc, raising the prospect of no transition period to smooth the shock for the world’s fifth-biggest economy.
Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a major defeat on Tuesday (15 January) when a huge majority of lawmakers – many of them from her own Conservative Party – rejected her Brexit plan.
As Britain is the first to leave the bloc, no one really knows about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.
With barriers to trade coming back, at least in the short term, things could turn very serious for those who rely on medication.
Medicines prices, licensing of medicinal products, safety protocols and health sector workforce are all expected to bear the brunt of the departure without a divorce deal.
The current assumptions warn of potential border delays for up to six months.
Officials are talking to drug companies about creating a six-week ‘buffer stock’ on top of the three months they already have in place.
This should help cover any short-term disruptions at the border. However, the industry has said that the target will be challenging.
Britain will also waive the need for EU firms to re-test their drugs under new rules.
The EU’s drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said last August that it and national regulators had set up a task force to minimise supply disruptions arising over the next two years.
Emergency powers to community pharmacists
As part of its contingency plans, the government has proposed emergency powers for pharmacists to ration drugs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The major proposal concerns with invoking a ‘serious shortage protocol’, allowing pharmacists to swap drugs, reduce quantity or change dosage, overruling GP prescriptions.
Pharmacists are however asked to refrain from stockpiling additional medicines beyond their business as usual stock levels.
The latest guidance issued by the Department of Health and Social Care mandates Chief and Responsible Pharmacists to ensure this.
Pharmacy bodies have suggested several other measures to lessen the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
These include relaxing the restrictions on pharmacy-to-pharmacy wholesale dealing without wholesaler dealers licenses.
The flexibility to share medicines with each another if one or more pharmacies run short of a particular line was available to pharmacies until a few years ago.
Pharmacists ask the government to reintroduce this provision to better manage medicine supplies.
With inputs from agencies