The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has called for community pharmacies to have renewed flexibility to share medicines with each other to combat Brexit-related drug shortages.

The move would be a ‘pragmatic further step’ to give pharmacies greater flexibility to share medicines without needing to hold a wholesaler dealer's licence – which was allowed until a few years ago – to mitigate shortages as part of the Government’s Brexit preparations, the NPA has said.

Legislation that allowed pharmacies to trade small amounts of medicines without a wholesale dealer’s licence was repealed in 2012 to comply with an EU directive.

Pharmacists are allowed to do it if it involves small amounts traded on an occasional basis, the trade is not for profit and aims to ‘meet a patient’s individual needs’, and the supply is not for onward wholesale distribution, according to guidance from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).


'Five per cent rule'


However, the NPA said this is ‘restrictive’ and called for the reintroduction of what was known as the ‘five per cent rule’.

NPA head of corporate affairs Gareth Jones added: ‘Pharmacies should be able to share medicines with each other if one or more pharmacies run short of a particular line. This flexibility was available to pharmacies until a few years ago but it was significantly curtailed to comply with an EU directive.

‘It was generally described as the five per cent rule and pharmacies could do any amount of trading without a wholesale dealer’s license as long as it didn’t exceed five per cent of their dispensing stock. This should now be reintroduced.’

However, a spokesperson for the MHRA reiterated the current law, saying: ‘Pharmacies were exempted from the need to have a wholesale dealer’s licence if their wholesale dealing activity was a small part of their business.

‘There was no mention in the law of any ‘five per cent rule’.  Current MHRA guidance operates on a similar basis to the 1968 Act.’

The restriction on profits should also be relaxed as most contractors will want to make a return on any trading, an NPA spokesperson added.