Emergency powers may be needed to ensure patients can still get the medicines they need after a no-deal Brexit, the body representing health product distributors has warned.
The Healthcare Distribution Association, which represents private companies supplying more than 90% of the medicines used in the NHS, warned that regulatory problems and transport hold-ups could result in drug shortages in the UK.
They are calling for pharmacists to be given greater powers to respond to shortages, and for changes to distribution licences to streamline the system.
Martin Sawer, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A no-deal, we believe, would require some sort of temporary emergency powers to ensure consistent supply to patients in the UK, because 50% of the medicines in a typical warehouse of a wholesaler has touched the EU at some point or other before getting to the UK.
“It’s a problem about aligning regulations to start with. That creates an ease of transport.
“It’s also a logistics issue about all the transport infrastructure being tied up in Calais, trying to get into France, that we need to get back here.”
Mr Sawer is due today to give evidence to the House of Commons Health Committee on the HDA’s proposals for emergency powers, which it has not yet discussed with the government.
In the event of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement, the association is calling on ministers to consider: New powers for pharmacists to be able to share medicines between each other in a local area; Greater discretion for pharmacists to change prescriptions as needed; The revocation of the 2,500-plus dealers’ licences in the UK, to allow for new licences to be issued only to those companies which concentrate on distribution.
Mr Sawer said the market – particularly in generic drugs – was currently “very competitive”, producing very low prices for the NHS and swiftly filling gaps in supply.
“We believe, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there would be shortages and effects to that commodity system that we can’t foresee,” he warned.
It could take “months or years” for alternative supply routes to be established, said Mr Sawer, and even then “supply shocks” could be expected.
And he added: “Whatever we do will add cost. Other routes would add cost.
“The infrastructure for medicines has all been developed since we joined the EU, and we are unpicking this and businesses are not planning against uncertainty.
“We don’t know what’s going on, so, because of an uncertain future, we can’t yet plan for what a no-deal would look like.”
Mr Sawer said: “We are here really to defend that right of patients to get their medicines. They shouldn’t need to know where they come from.
“We deliver twice a day to every pharmacy hospital doctor in the UK. It’s the private sector doing it, the NHS paying for it.”