My views on Brexit: ‘The Government is writing cheques it can’t cash on medicines availability’


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By Rachel Carter
Freelance journalist

16 Jan 2019

Mike Hewiston, superintendent at Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset, shares how he’s feeling about Britain leaving the EU and why he’s worried about what it will mean for community pharmacy

 

‘This journey has been going on for a long, long time now and I don’t think we’re in any better position today to know what exactly is going to happen in six to eight weeks’ time than we were two years ago. There’s still massive uncertainty about where we’re headed and in all honesty, I’m not sure the Government’s plan is credible with respect to medicines.’

 

‘Stockpiling and supply’

 

‘The Government has told pharmacists that they must not stockpile medicines and that the supply chain is going to sort itself out – but the supply chain has shown no willingness to sort itself out for the last five years, so nothing about Brexit is going to make that any better.

‘My biggest fear is about disruption to the ‘just-in-time’ supply chain. Our wholesalers only have a few days or a week’s worth of stock in hand for any one particular product at any one time, so it doesn’t take much to go wrong for there to be massive disruption in the system.

‘When medicines go out of stock, we end up chasing round for more – there’s a huge knock-on effect. If Brexit wasn’t happening, pharmacies would still be considering what they need to hold as a strategic buffer or reverse of stock right now because of the state of the supply chain.

‘The serious stock shortage protocol, outlined in the Government’s plan, is great – but it doesn’t go far enough and the big question mark for me is the financial implications – will pharmacists be reimbursed for the additional workload and risk this creates?’

 

‘Not a sound message’

 

‘I’m also receiving daily queries from patients – who as per Government advice must be encouraged not to stockpile either, but are concerned about access to their medicines.

‘One example is a lady with epilepsy, who had read that her anti-convulsant comes from Belgium and inevitably she asked me whether she should hold additional stock.

‘Bear in mind for a moment the implications to somebody with epilepsy if they don’t get the medicines they need and they have a seizure. How can I hand on heart, as a professional with a duty of care to that patient, tell them that the decision the Government has made with respect to the politics of the situation is credible? It’s not a sound message to give.

‘Maybe it’s different because I’m on the frontline here and I see this everyday, I know these people and I know their families, but it is a really big concern for me.’

 

‘Increasing workload’

 

‘I’m worried about what impact this is going to have on my team as well. We are in a rural area and I rely on one of my pharmacists, who is Portuguese and EU-qualified. She’s registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) today, but will that be fine come 29 March? There’s huge uncertainty for people who are caught in this whole process.

‘The proposed Government programme means people who have lived here for 15 to 20 years, had children here, built a life here and so on are going to have to essentially apply for permission to stay. That creates uncertainty for them and for us as a business because I don’t know whether we are going to have major changes to our existing staffing structure – and we just can’t recruit UK-born and qualified graduates in this area because of the rurality.’

 

‘Looking forward’

 

‘We don’t know if the impact will be the supply chain going or major price spikes, but the challenges are real. If prices were to escalate at a time when the Government is sucking margin out of the contract, then will people have problems paying their wholesale bills?

‘I know lots of colleagues who have already raided their pension pot, remortgaged their homes, going to all sorts of lengths to keep their businesses afloat – the Government doesn’t realise the human impact of what they have forced on the sector for the last two years.

‘Politicians have also been writing cheques they can’t cash on medicines availability. People are being guaranteed their medicines post-Brexit, but we can’t guarantee they can get them today. This just leads me back to the question of whether the government’s plan is credible.

‘We’re at a stage where workload is increasing all the time in community pharmacy because of the additional problems, mainly from the supply chain. I’d like to think the pharmacy network will be able to cope if there was any major disruption post-Brexit, but I don’t know.’

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