Below we have tried to summarise what we know so far, but the short answer here is we just don’t know exactly what will happen.
Why might Brexit cause problems with the supply of medicines to the UK?
Producing medicine is an international business; many of the ingredients come from India and the Far East, whilst a large number of factories supplying the UK currently are located in Europe. Although the UK does produce some medicine, it is not on a large enough scale currently to cover current demand.
There is a worry that there will be some delays at ports, increased costs and legal or regulatory issues, particularly if a no-deal Brexit happens.
I’ve heard a lot about stockpiling; should I be worried that there won’t be enough medicine to go around?
Some pharmaceutical companies and the NHS have started to put into place plans to stockpile some medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit. This is just a precaution in case there are delays and hopefully there will be no need to panic, although nothing is guaranteed. At the moment though, it looks as if this is simply a contingency plan. NASS does have concerns however that no biologic medicines are currently produced in the UK and that a possible delay to these medicines arriving in the UK would have a serious effect on those people who have been prescribed them.
Who is lobbying the government on this subject?
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Pharmacy, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, amonst others, are all lobbying the government specifically about this subject. National Voices, an organisation that NASS is a member of, is also lobbying more widely on health and Brexit on our behalf as part of the Brexit Healthcare Alliance. NASS has also separately submitted evidence to the Health and Social Care Select Committee on the subject which has been published on the UK Government website.
What does the White Paper and Draft Withdrawal Agreement say on the subject?
- A facilitated Customs Arrangement
- Remaining part of the European Medicines Agency
- Health as a part of a future security relationship
- Science and innovation partnerships
If these were to get approved it would certainly mean a much smoother transition out of Europe, at least when it comes to medicine imports.
Are there other ways my healthcare might be affected?
A large amount of NHS staff come from within the EU – as it currently stands there would not be enough staff coming into the UK to provide sufficient cover. In the long term the UK would need to offer better terms for homegrown medical staff, especially during training. It is also worth noting that there is currently no agreement on what will happen to UK citizens when travelling within the EU, currently covered by a reciprocal agreement (you might recognise the EHIC card) meaning that if you fall ill within the EU, you won’t be hit with a massive medical bill.
When will we know what is actually going to happen?
We don’t have the answer to that question unfortunately. As with all-things Brexit, until the Withdrawal Agreement is fully in place we won’t know where the EU stands on these proposals and if there will indeed be any delays to importing medicines, staffing or reciprocal health care, as a result of what is or isn’t agreed. We will do our best to keep you updated on this complex issue.
NASS has submitted evidence to the Health and Social Care Select Committee which has been published on the UK Government website.