Local pharmaceutical committees (LPCs) have expressed concern about the impact the UK’s exit from the European Union will have on pharmacies in England.

Half (50%) of LPCs that responded to a PSNC poll this week said they were worried pharmacies will be blamed for any medicine supply problems caused by Brexit.

Another 29% said the combination of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic could be ‘a disaster’ for the sector.

A further 17% said they believed there will be ‘some but not too many’ supply problems, while 3% of respondents felt the UK’s departure from the EU would not have much impact.

The Government has already warned healthcare professionals that 'significant’ medicine disruptions are likely to take place for several months after the 1 January, due to new checks and bureaucracy at the short crossings between the UK and France.

In August, Steve Oldfield, chief commercial officer at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said medicine suppliers should stockpile six weeks’ worth of drugs as a safeguard against ‘possible disruptions'.

Responding to PSNC’s findings, Gareth Jones, head of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said: ‘Inevitably, pharmacists with their patients are at the sharp end whenever there are medicine shortages, that’s why the NPA continues to press for further safeguards.

‘These include allowing pharmacists to make simple substitutions when a medicine is out of stock, and permitting pharmacies to share medicines with each other if one runs short of a particular line.’

He added: ‘It can be very frustrating to be blamed for a situation you yourself have had no part in creating. Every community pharmacist knows this feeling unfortunately.’

‘Robust contingency plans’

Sandra Gidley, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said: ‘It is crucial the UK’s transition from the EU does not prevent patients from accessing their medicines. With the Covid-19 pandemic and this year’s flu season, our supply chains are already stretched, placing extreme pressure on our profession and other primary care services.

‘We need urgent clarification on any issues that could affect medicines, our workforce, science and research and the pharmaceutical industry.’

A DHSC spokesperson told the Pharmacist that pharmacists ‘can be reassured’ that the Government has ‘robust contingency plans in place and every possible step is being taken so people continue to receive the medication they need’.

The spokesperson added: ‘Patients do not need to stockpile and people should continue to take their medicines and request prescriptions as normal.’

Earlier this week, the Government also confirmed that the Falsified Medicines Directive will end in England, Scotland and Wales on 31 December.

The Medicines and Medical Device Bill – which is currently progressing through Parliament – will instead give the UK Government the power to create its own regulations to prevent fake medicines from entering the supply chain.

PCN progress

The PSNC poll also found that 80% of respondents had either built new or strengthened existing local stakeholder relationships during the pandemic.

However, it revealed that pharmacy PCN leads are facing difficulties engaging with their local networks, with 40% reporting they were struggling to make progress.

Another 32% said they were achieving some engagement but ‘mostly pushback’, while 23% said they faced mainly positive engagement but ‘a little pushback’ and 5% said their pharmacy PCN leads were well engaged.

The poll was carried out at PSNC’s November LPC conference on 17 November.

It follows an update from the negotiating body last week (13 November) on the Covid-19 vaccination programme, which said one of the main ways pharmacies can get involved is by working with their PCN to support the PCN vaccination site and any outreach into care homes.

‘This could involve pharmacy contractors providing staff, under a private arrangement, to support the GP/PCN-led service,’ PSNC said.