Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) has denied a suggestion voiced last week on breakfast TV that medicine supplies into Northern Ireland are being impacted as a result of the protocol.
In a statement, published on the CPNI website last week, Gerard Greene, chief executive of CPNI, said he wanted to ‘reassure’ patients and the wider public that medicine supplies into Northern Ireland are ‘good at present’.
This was in response to a comment made on Good Morning Britain on Friday (13 November), in which Roger Pollen, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, shared that several of his members running pharmacies and small wholesale distribution businesses were finding ‘real difficulty accessing supplies’.
Mr Pollen added: ‘A lot of those businesses are really suffering, with some of them talking about closing because of the pressure they are facing.’
In July, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) urged Brexit negotiators to reach an agreement on the supply of medicines from the UK into Northern Ireland to prevent disruption and shortages for patients.
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, which forms part of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, drugs and products made in the UK have to undergo rigorous safety checks and licensing processes before they can be issued to the public in Northern Ireland.
This could endanger the supply of medicines and medical devices, leading to shortages and soaring costs, the association warned.
Mr Green acknowledged that while there are ‘inevitably sporadic shortages of some medicine lines from time to time’, as there have been across the UK in recent years, CPNI would continue to ‘ensure the supply of medicines to pharmacies and patients in NI is maintained going forward’.
In September, The Pharmacist reported that some pharmacies in England were experiencing medicine shortages.
PSNC said this was the result of an ongoing shortage of van drivers caused by Covid and recent Brexit-related changes in the rules on immigration and tax.
Mr Green said: ‘Community pharmacists will continue to work, as they have always done, to source and provide patients in Northern Ireland with the medicines they have been prescribed’.
Northern Ireland receives most of the supply of its medicines from distributors and manufacturers in Great Britain but, due to a ‘grace period’, controls have not yet been imposed on the movement of those products.
The grace period was due to expire in January 2022, however, the UK government has indefinitely extended it.
This comes after four weeks of discussion between the European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and the UK’s Brexit minister David Frost over the Northern Ireland Brexit arrangements.
At a press conference last week (12 November), Mr Sefcovic said key areas of contention between the EU and UK – such as on medicines – could be solved as early as next [this] week.