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Industry and pharmacy bodies confirm signing government 'gagging orders' over no-deal Brexit plans

Exclusive: The Department of Health and Social Care says non-disclosure agreements have been signed “to protect the commercial interest of the government and its suppliers”.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) is one of several pharmacy bodies to have signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) preventing them from disclosing the UK government’s plans for a no-deal Brexit.

The Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA), the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) have also confirmed that they have signed NDAs issued by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

A spokesperson for the DHSC said the NDAs are used “to protect the commercial interests of the government and its suppliers”.

However, Warwick Smith, director general of the BGMA, said the agreements were hindering his organisation’s ability to give guidance to its own members.

In October 2018, the DHSC revealed that it had requested “a number of pharmaceutical industry representative bodies and manufacturers sign” NDAs so that advice then given to the whole industry on no-deal Brexit plans is “clear, appropriate and deliverable”.

The PSNC, BGMA, HDA and ABPI have now confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal that they are among other representative bodies to have signed these agreements.

But Warwick Smith, director general of the BGMA, criticised the government for publishing “lots of propaganda” when it “needs to be much more open about its planning assumptions”.

“Whilst those of us who have signed those infamous NDAs have a very good idea of what is going on, companies generally are not aware of the detail — there is an information gap and we need facts,” he added.

“We know a lot more than we’re allowed to tell our members,” he added.

“We are trying to give guidance to the members under [an NDA] so we can’t be fully open.”

However, Martin Sawer, executive director for the HDA, said the no-deal Brexit planning discussions had to be held “in confidence because people then feel more comfortable discussing some scenarios and hypothetical situations, and it’s not all being held down and recorded”.

He added that the NDAs were signed by “all parts of the supply chain on the industry side” early in 2018, when the no-deal planning group was set up, “to enable government to float ideas … and we would respond to those ideas so the government would hopefully get the best possible advice and make the right decisions”.

A spokesperson for the PSNC told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it signed an NDA “so that we could fully assist the DHSC in its contingency planning for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit”.

A spokesperson for the ABPI added: “Given the complexity of this planning — including commercially sensitive information shared between government and industry — an NDA was agreed to support effective planning for continued medicines supply in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

“As part of any standard contract, in government or the private sector, we use these clauses to protect the commercial interests of government and its suppliers in a reasonable way,” a spokesperson for the DHSC said.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society said has not signed a government NDA relating to no-deal Brexit preparations.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206944

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