Over recent weeks, people have become increasingly alarmed about media stories of Brexit-related shortages of medicines. We’ve been working closely behind-the-scenes with the Department of Health, key pharmaceutical suppliers and the NHS Specialist Pharmacy Services team to represent members’ views.

Speaking with manufacturers and the Department of Health recently, there are very advanced plans already in place to ensure continuity of supply regarding Brexit. The government has recently set out a summary of recent preparations, including contingency arrangements for freight/import of medicines in the event of WTO trading post March 2019.

Some (but not all) suppliers, manufacture in the UK and they have stockpiles of the materials they need, on hand. For those that don't, the Department of Health is providing tens of millions of pounds to enable manufacturers/distributors to create additional warehousing space (refrigerated as required).

Although the government won’t release actual figures (on grounds of commercial confidentiality), there is a general acknowledgement that they have been preparing 3 months++ of supply. Manufacturers are also gearing up with 2 months++ of supply. That's almost 6 months of meds here in the UK within the NHS supply chain, ready and waiting.

It’s worth noting that pharmaceutical companies have a keen interest in ensuring continuity of supply, as that’s how they get paid. The government is also painfully aware of the sensitivity of this issue, following ongoing lobbying by MPs on behalf of constituents.

Ongoing Challenges

Putting Brexit aside, there have been and continue to be practical challenges in certain parts of the country when it comes to obtaining enough medicine on prescription. We’ve been working with GP surgeries up and down the country to understand their issues. In practice, the challenges with repeat prescriptions are simple, internal to the NHS and nothing to do with Brexit.

In the NHS, GP’s contracts are overseen and administered by almost 200 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). They tell the GPs what they can or can't prescribe - and how much to prescribe at a time. This varies across the country (based on local advice) but means that one CCG can permit 30 days of meds and another the recommended 56 days, even within the same county.

Our Forthcoming Campaign – “Meds For Life”

Later in the year we’ll be launching our “Meds For Life” campaign, to engage with every CCG in the country setting out the specific needs of people with Addison’s Disease. We’ll be reminding the commissioners that people with Addison’s should be prescribed at least 56 days’ meds at a time.

Sadly, many members report problems getting sufficiently long prescriptions (especially accounting for sick day rules over the winter). This supposedly cost-saving policy needs to be tackled head-on. Building upon the NICE guidelines for Addison’s, and with the support for Professor John Wass, who is Clinical Reference Group Chair for Endocrinology in the UK, we will be engaging with all the CCGs in UK to persuade them of this important, overlooked need. We’ll be proving members with regular updates as the campaign develops during 2019, in our newsletter and in our online forums.