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Hospital pharmacy 

Hospital pharmacists told not to stockpile drugs in preparation for no-deal Brexit

Although the Department of Health and Social Care is taking steps to stockpile medicines ahead of Brexit, hospital pharmacists have been instructed not to do the same.

Medicines stockpile in a pharmacy


Since 2016, NHS hospital trusts have worked to reduce their medicine stocks to 15 days’ worth of drugs; however, there are now concerns that this may not be enough

Hospital pharmacists have been instructed not to stockpile drugs, despite the potential impact of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit on the supply of medicines, the president of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) has told The Pharmaceutical Journal

Graeme Richardson, chief pharmacist at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and president of the GHP, which represents around 4,500 pharmacists across the UK, mostly in the hospital sector, said that he and his colleagues were “very concerned” about the impact a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could have on the supply of medicines.

“The DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care] is working with industry to stockpile [drugs] but the instruction I’ve had is not to stockpile medicines within my department,” he said.

Richardson’s comments follow reports of a letter from NHS Providers, which represents hospital, mental health and community trusts, to Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, and Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, warning of the risk of hospitals running out of drugs in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

It has been reported that the leaked letter, sent by Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, on 17 August 2018, said there had been “no formal communication to trusts” from either NHS England or NHS Improvement over a no-deal Brexit, which has “hampered” any work being carried out by trusts to prepare appropriately.

Richardson echoed this and said that until hospital trusts have more information there is “not a lot we can do, apart from have it on our radar”.

Graeme Richardson, chief pharmacist at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and president of the GHP

Source: Courtesy of Graeme Richardson

‘If everyone stockpiled in an uncoordinated manner, it could just cause even more shortages than we are currently experiencing,’ said Graeme Richardson, chief pharmacist at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and president of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists

He said that since Lord Carter’s 2016 review of efficiency in hospitals, trusts have been working hard to cut average stockholdings of drugs down to 15 days; however, his concern now, with Brexit on the horizon, was that this could be “too tight”.

“We probably need to up stockholdings,” he said, but added that even if trusts were eventually encouraged to stockpile, many hospital pharmacies simply do not have the space.

“We couldn’t carry six months’ [worth] of stocks,” he said, “and in any case, we’re just putting off the inevitable”.

“If everyone stockpiled in an uncoordinated manner, it could just cause even more shortages than we are currently experiencing.”

In a statement released in anticipation of several government papers containing information on a no-deal Brexit scenario, which are expected to be published from 23 August 2018, Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, said that everyone delivering front line health services “urgently” needed clarity about their responsibilities and what support and coordination they can expect from the UK government.

“Above all, it is vital that the government provides assurance to patients that they will be protected whatever happens,” he said.

“The guidance must also support NHS organisations as they plan to mitigate any hazards from an abrupt dislocation from the EU.

“The Brexit Health Alliance, representing bodies from across the healthcare sector, will continue to work with the UK government to make sure that the supply of medicines and equipment, medical research, public health and other issues are properly addressed in this and future guidance.”

On 24 July 2018, Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, told MPs on the House of Commons Health Select Committee that the government is taking steps to stockpile drugs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

However, when asked by MPs how many months’ worth of drugs would be stockpiled, Hancock said that level of detail had yet to be finalised.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20205348

Readers' comments (2)

  • The risk of a no-deal Brexit is growing but before then the Falsified Medicines Directive will affect all pharmacies in Europe, including the United Kingdom. The UK is also a major exporter of medicines and therefore the impact could be widespread. It is vital that patients here and across Europe continue to get their medicine, in the event of a no-deal scenario.

    Organisations in the medicine supply chain urgently need clarity about their responsibilities as well as support with implementing Brexit and the FMD. More specifically, they need guidance from experienced solution providers with traceability expertise. It is possible to build the requirements of the FMD into existing pharmacy workflows and this could be a great tool for patient safety and supply chain efficiency.

    With less than six months left for the industry to implement processes and systems to ensure FMD compliance, there is no time to waste, deal or no-deal. The post-Brexit world could get even more complicated, but whilst the mechanics of pack verification may change, the underlying rationale does not.

    - Mark Davison, Senior Operation Director, Europe - rfxcel

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  • The Government says it is talking to "drug companies" about building 6 weeks stock, but what about the generics manufacturers? After all generics covers about two thirds of scripts dispensed in the UK, but as we are all too aware are struggling currently to keep up with demand.

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  • Graeme Richardson, chief pharmacist at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and president of the GHP

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