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Medicines shortages

Manufacturers asked to retain Brexit medicine stockpiles amid supply concerns over coronavirus

With China being a major manufacturer of pharmaceutical ingredients, the Department of Health and Social Care has said it is evaluating the impact that the coronavirus may have on medicines supplies.

Open access article

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

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Chinese people on train wearing masks


The Department of Health and Social Care has asked medicines suppliers “to carry out a risk assessment on the impact of coronavirus on their business”

The government has asked pharmaceutical companies to keep their no-deal Brexit medicine stockpiles, as a precaution against shortages arising from the spread of the coronavirus in China.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said in a statement that it was evaluating the impact of coronavirus on the medicines supply chain “as the Chinese government continues to impose further restriction on movement within China”.

China is a major manufacturer of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) used in medicines supplied to the UK.

The statement, published on 11 February 2020, said medicines suppliers “have been asked to carry out a risk assessment on the impact of coronavirus on their business” to mitigate potential pressures on supply chains.

“As an extra precaution, companies have also been asked to retain existing stockpiles of medical supplies, compiled as a contingency measure ahead of our exit from the EU, where possible,” it said, adding that the DHSC ”is also working with NHS Supply Chain to retain centralised stock of medical products”. 

In August 2018, the DHSC requested manufacturers maintain a six-week stockpile of medicines to prepare for the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. However, a deal was struck before the 31 January deadline.

Warwick Smith, director general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that drug companies “tend to hold significant quantities of API, so there is unlikely to be an early impact on supplies from that point of view”.

“As the DHSC has said, their request to companies to maintain existing stockpiles is a precautionary measure,” Smith said.

“More importantly, companies have been undertaking risk assessments of the impact on their individual products and feeding the results to the DHSC.”

Richard Torbett, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, added that it is “in regular contact with both our members and the government about any impact that the coronavirus could have on medicine supply in the UK”.

“There are robust procedures in place to manage the supply of medicines in the UK, and companies will be taking all possible measures to secure supply for patients, in line with government guidance,” he said.

The government statement said there were no current shortages linked to the spread of coronavirus in China and have advised the public and NHS not to stockpile.

In November 2019, generics manufacturers called on European leaders to move drugs manufacturing out of China— as well as India — to help stabilise the medicines supply chain.

The Pharmaceutical Journal reported in August 2019 that half of all safety warnings issued by European and United States drug regulators are given to medicines manufacturers in India and China.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207703

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