Following the historic parliamentary defeat of the government’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said it is “deploying all necessary resources” to ensure patients do not run short of medicines when the UK leaves the EU.
Speaking after the government defeat on 15 January 2019 — and with less than three months until the agreed Brexit date of 29 March 2019 — Simon Dukes, chief executive of the PSNC, said pharmacy negotiators would continue to work with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to plan for all potential scenarios, including a no-deal Brexit.
“Given the ongoing uncertainty, this work is now more critical than ever and the PSNC will be deploying all necessary resources to it,” he said.
“Our focus will remain on contingency planning with the DHSC to ensure that patients can continue to access the medicines they need, when they need them, and that the impact on community pharmacies is minimised.”
Dukes also revealed that government Brexit planning had delayed negotiations on community pharmacy funding and the future role of the sector.
“This is not an exclusive problem to pharmacy but we are concerned that this delay is now likely to continue,” he said.
Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said that “with time running out, we hope parliament will come together and quickly find a solution to the stalemate and reassure patients that medicines will not be disrupted come March 2019”.
He reiterated that a no-deal Brexit would prove “extremely challenging” and the focus of pharmaceutical companies was on making sure that medicines and vaccines got to patients whatever the Brexit outcome.
The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) is calling on negotiators to agree on a series of actions that need to be taken to protect patients, including discussions between relevant authorities and the sector to coordinate contingency plans, such as putting fast-track lanes or priority routes for medicines into ports and airports and exploring the possibility of exempting active pharmaceutical ingredients and raw materials for medicines from border checks to ensure manufacturing of medicines continues with limited disruption.
The government has asked drugs manufacturers to maintain a rolling six-week stockpile of medicines for six months in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
In addition, GPs and community pharmacies were told not to stockpile additional medicines beyond their business as usual stock levels. The DHSC also said there was “no need” for clinicians to write longer NHS prescriptions and that the public should be discouraged from stockpiling.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has launched a consultation on the introduction of a “strict protocol” to allow pharmacists to dispense an alternative medicine if the prescribed drug is unavailable.
The DHSC has said that a protocol would be issued in case of a serious national shortage, such as following a no-deal Brexit, and allow pharmacists to dispense in accordance with the protocol, rather than the prescription, without having to contact the patients’ GP.
The government added that the protocol would clearly indicate which alternative medicines can be dispensed and to which patients.
The protocol may allow pharmacists to respond to a shortage in four ways, including dispensing a reduced quantity, a therapeutic equivalent, a generic equivalent or an alternative dosage form.
In a statement, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said: “We support pharmacists using their professional judgment to decide on what medicine to dispense. Pharmacists will work with doctors to make sure any communication about changes to medicines is clear.”
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has already proposed that community pharmacists should be able to automatically substitute an alternative medicine if they cannot dispense the prescribed item, to help deal with any possible drugs shortages post-Brexit.
This followed on from a similar suggestion from Sibby Buckle, vice chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English pharmacy board and chair of the RPS pharmacy digital forum.