Brexit Medicine Shortage: Who’s Affected?

With Brexit on the horizon, there are widespread reports of medication shortages, even for common drugs.

At some point or another in our lives, we have all missed a dose of medication. Perhaps it was sleeping through a headache when you’d planned for another paracetamol or leaving a lemsip to go cold, un-sipped, and forgotten on a countertop somewhere. However, for many, skipped or irregular doses can have terrible consequences. From withdrawal symptoms and relapsed conditions, difficulty reacclimatising to the medication again, to hospitalisation or even death, getting the right medication at the right time is vital. 


At some point or another in our lives, we have all missed a dose of medication. Perhaps it was sleeping through a headache when you’d planned for another paracetamol or leaving a lemsip to go cold, un-sipped, and forgotten on a countertop somewhere. However, for many, skipped or irregular doses can have terrible consequences. From withdrawal symptoms and relapsed conditions, difficulty reacclimatising to the medication again, to hospitalisation or even death, getting the right medication at the right time is vital. 

The UK is currently set to leave the European Union on the 29th of March 2019, following a “Leave” result in the 2016 referendum. Many laws regarding quality-assurance, import rights, and import fees are currently enshrined in EU law without a UK equivalent. This has thrown into doubt the smooth running of the pharmaceutical trade which we are used to. And simple delays at the border – from routine screening of trucks to paying import tax at the point of UK entry – can spiral into late deliveries, empty warehouses, and minimal medical stock. The potential Brexit drug shortage has even led to a pre-Brexit medicine shortage as hospitals, pharmacies, and patients are uncertain how easy it will be to access life-saving and essential medications after March 29th. 


As a precaution, organisations and individuals are buying extra supplies which means there’s less on the shelves for others. Suppliers and pharmacies have so far been unable to keep up with this pre-Brexit demand which has caused greater worries for how the shelves will look after Brexit. The president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Ash Soni, has said that there are “massive shortages and price spikes… patients are having to wait [because] items are out of stock and unavailable”. Ash Soni has said that he’s never seen such an extreme and widespread shortage on such commonly prescribed drugs before. 


There are already widespread reports of delays to prescriptions due to unavailable medication, both for rare medications and for relatively common prescription drugs. This is despite a spokesperson for the Government Department of Health and Social Care stating that “the supply of medicines will be uninterrupted in the event of exiting the EU without a deal.” Despite their own words, the UK government has begun to stockpile medicines, too. The act of stockpiling drugs itself has cost the NHS millions of pounds and growing, which is eating into the recently promised £20 billion raise to the NHS budget this year.


To avoid leaving patients without medication, some GP practices plan to alter prescriptions and pharmacies will begin to dispense the available equivalents: however, when rushed, your new prescription may include dangerous drug interactions. You can read more about the risks here. To avoid this, take advantage of medication review services such as E-Surgery’s Ask-A-Pharmacist tool. It may be that you ought to change the time of day you take your medication, or you will have to avoid certain foods from now on. 


For your information, we can share with you here which specific medications suppliers have expressed concern about, either because there are worries around future import rights or because the prices are already rising as a result of stockpiling; causing concerns over post-Brexit costs and availability. Conditions so far affected include hypertension control (high blood pressure), epilepsy, diabetes, some cancer medications, hormone therapy (including birth control), acne, and antidepressant medication. Have a look at the rest of our list here.


The post-Brexit shortage concerns are twofold: first, delays in receiving medication stock will impact patients, resulting in outcomes from unpleasant to fatal; secondly, as certain drugs become scarce their price rockets up and the NHS will be less able to afford and less willing to prescribe the medication currently available. The chief executive of the Patients Association, Rachel Power, has said that patients are in a very difficult position.

“It is impossible to say whether the government’s contingency planning will prove adequate… the uncertainty over Brexit is leaving patients who rely on medicine for their day-to-day wellbeing on the horns of a dreadful dilemma.” – Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association

As the final day of EU membership looms for the UK, pharmacists are continuing to report massive shortages of medication across the UK and are anticipating additional difficulty securing medication come Brexit. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, remains hopeful that the NHS will be able to cope. It has been speculated that stricter immigration laws will slow the population’s growth as fewer people will settle in the UK, and “Leave” campaigners argue that the fewer people eligible to access NHS services then the more money the NHS will have per patient. For the EU nationals who previously have had access to some NHS services via the European Health Insurance Card system and UK citizens suddenly unable to source their medication through the NHS stockpile, there will be solace in private prescription-filling, fully-regulated companies such as e-Surgery who can provide medication and medical consultations remotely, at no cost to the NHS. 


As Brexit day approaches, currently set for March 29th 2019, healthcare professionals foresee considerable swathes of limited stock throughout the country, especially if there is an unsteady flow of medical imports upon Britain exiting the European Union. Whether NHS stockpiles will prove sufficient, chaos at the border proves inexistent, or if in future patients will have to look to suppliers abroad and privately import their own scarce medication is unclear. Across the UK, patients are investigating alternative medication suppliers such as e-Surgery.com to avoid being negatively impacted by NHS medical shortages.


References

BBC Health News The Independent The Medic Portal The Guardian

About e-Surgery

E-Surgery is an online pharmacy offering remote consultations with fully registered doctors and pharmacists based in the UK. We prescribe and post fast, effective treatments that are sourced from the same pharmaceutical wholesalers who supply the large high-street chains in the UK – with no hidden costs.   


E-Surgery provides high quality customer service in a responsive, patient-centred group of experienced healthcare professionals, and we fully adhere to all UK standards and regulations. Our Doctors can answer queries, advise on all manners of medical conditions and preventative healthcare, prescribe appropriate medication, as well as arrange necessary investigations, and, when required, make onward referrals.


Our aim is to make sure that you have access to the healthcare and medical professionals you need in order to make informed decisions about your health.

This blog was first published in February 2019 for e-Surgery.com, an online pharmacy and gp service based in the UK, on their website - https://e-surgery.com/brexit-medicine-shortage-whos-affected/

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