What does Brexit mean for medicines and pharmacy in Scotland?

Written by: Matt Barclay, Director of Operations, Community Pharmacy Scotland

Published: 31/08/2018

Matt explains how community pharmacists are approaching Brexit and what that could mean for people accessing medicines across Scotland.

Community pharmacy teams work hard to source medicines daily for people requiring them, whether it is for an acute episode or a long-term condition. The majority of the time this will look seamless to the public, where you come into the pharmacy to pick up the prescription and it is filled in a timely manner with any necessary advice being dispensed alongside it.

Like many industries the medicine market is a global business. The UK imports 90% of medicines and devices with around 50% of those coming from the EU. Medicines often cross many borders before making into the UK a few days before they are supplied to the individual. Even in Scotland we talk about medicine supply in a UK sense, as the supply chain is UK based and the legislation around it is reserved for the UK Parliament, despite Health being devolved. It is also important to note that due to the commercial nature of medicines manufacture it is difficult and expensive to set up operations, so simply increasing production in the UK is neither viable nor possible as medicines are made of many parts, and many parts are sourced and made in different countries.

The UK, and agencies within the UK such as the Medicines Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA), have helped significantly shape how medicines are licensed in the EU, how they are therefore traded and how the safety of medicines are monitored across Member States. There is also the sharing of high level health information across the EU to monitor communicable diseases and resistance to antibiotics across the continent.

The impact of Brexit on medicines is largely unknown. A Brexit where regulatory alignment is achieved with the EU (i.e. we operate within the same rules as now) for medicines seems to be the least disruptive option. A Brexit with a ‘no-deal’ outcome was addressed in part by the recent publication of technical notes from the UK Government. Six-week buffer stock of medicine to be held by manufacturers was the main headline here, however, this is not a long-term solution and the UK Government plans on following the existing EU regulatory requirements for the time-being.

Here at Community Pharmacy Scotland we are liaising with Scottish Government civil servants concerning how to approach Brexit. The advice at this stage is clear: no stockpiling needs to take place at a pharmacy or individual patient level. In fact, any stockpiling could upset the supply before Brexit, as industry is finely tuned to the volumes and medicine requirements of the UK population.

What will you see the day after Brexit? Provided that the contingency measures are carried out successfully, I suspect there will be no difference. Depending on the outcome it will be a few months before any impact is felt, if any. Regardless of this, however, community pharmacy teams will continue to work tirelessly to supply medicines in a timely manner.

The ALLIANCE would like to hear from members, individuals or organisations, who are concerned about what Brexit and will mean for medicines, medical devices or any other matter related to support and services for people living with long term conditions, disabled people and unpaid carers.  Members can contact Andrew Strong by email on andrew.strong@alliance-scotland.org.uk or by telephone on 0141 404 0231 to discuss further.

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Community Pharmacy Scotland

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