Producing generics and insulin nationally is not enough to cope with potential shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Government has said.

Responding to a question in Parliament last week (10 January), health minister Stephen Hammond said that ‘increasing manufacturing of generic medicines and insulin in the UK is not a short-term solution’ to guarantee the continuity of medicine supply if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

In August, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock asked pharmaceutical companies to hold a minimum of 42 days extra of supply of medicines ‘over and above their business as usual operational buffer stock’ as part of the Government’s contingency plan to ensure patients can get the medicines they need if Britain exists the EU without a deal.


‘Not a short-term solution’


Asked whether the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had considered the benefits of manufacturing generic medicines and insulin in the UK to address potential availability and pricing issues caused by a no-deal Brexit, Mr Hammond said that it is ‘not a short-term solution’.

He said: ‘Increasing manufacturing of generic medicines and insulin in the UK isn’t a short-term solution as this would require companies to invest in, set up and license manufacturing facilities in the UK as well as applying for marketing authorisations, all of which take years.

‘In addition, there is insufficient evidence that this would result in lower prices compared to manufacture abroad.’

Generic medicines make up around 75% of the NHS’s day-to-day medicine use, according to the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA). The manufacturers’ representative body estimated that only 10-20% of those drugs are manufactured in the UK.

Mr Hammond said that the DHSC has put plans in place to ensure ‘continued supply of medicines after the UK leaves the EU, focused on those medicines that are imported from the EU.’ These include pharmaceutical companies stockpiling an additional six weeks’ supply on top of their usual buffer stock and ‘prioritisation of medicines and medical products at the border’, he said.


Serious shortage protocol


In December, the DHSC revealed that it is consulting on implementing a ‘strict protocol’ to allow community pharmacists to ‘provide an appropriate alternative, should there be a shortage of certain types of medicines’ in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Director of policy for the charity Diabetes UK Bridget Turner argued that dispensing a ‘reduced quantity of any medicine’, an ‘alternative dosage form’, a ‘therapeutic equivalent’ or a ‘generic equivalent’ must be avoided.

She told The Pharmacist today (14 January): ‘People with diabetes cannot just switch to a different type or brand of insulin without harmful consequences for their health. Rationing should never be necessary for a medicine that people rely on to survive.

‘It’s the Government’s responsibility to protect public health whatever the outcome of the vote on the proposed Brexit deal.

‘We recognise work is being done to ensure extra supplies of medicines are available, and that alternative ways of bringing medicines into the UK are in place to cope with disruptions at ports. However we still have little detail about what these plans are.’