The UK government has updated drugmakers on both sides of the English Channel on the potential impacts of a ‘no deal’ scenario, whereby the UK withdraws from the European Union (EU) in March next year, without having signed trade and legal agreements.
According to the latest cross-government planning assumptions, a ‘no-deal’ scenario could reduce access to medicines across the strait crossings into Dover and Folkestone, on England’s south east coast.
“The European Commission has made it clear that, in the event of a no deal scenario, it will impose full third country controls on people and goods entering the EU from the UK,” wrote UK secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, in an open letter.
“Whether this happens or not is in their hands, not ours,” he continued.
According to Hancock, the short crossings on England’s south coast pose the greatest risk due to their “frequent and closed loop nature”, adding that a “worst-case scenario” could see these routes affected for up to six months.
Hancock has also updated drugmakers on the government’s stockpiling contingency plans, following the government’s original medicines scheme – announced in August of this year – recommending companies store an additional six-week supply of medicines in the UK.
According to Hancock, the six-week stockpiling programme remains a critical part of the government’s contingency plans; however “this now needs to be supplemented with additional actions”, he told firms.
In addition, the government is working to “ensure that there is sufficient roll-on, roll-off freight capacity” for medicines entering the UK, and has agreed that medicines will be prioritised on alternative routes to ensure that the “flow of all products will continue unimpeded” after March, 2019.
ABPI: Update is ‘stark’
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has responded to the UK’s contingency plans for a no deal withdrawal, requesting alternative supply routes and additional information for drugmakers.
According to ABPI chief executive, Mike Thompson, pharma companies are duplicating processes, changing supply routes and stockpiling medicines to ensure patients have access to medicines, “whatever the Brexit scenario”.
“[Hancock’s] update on potential border delays for six months in a no deal scenario is stark. Stockpiling more medicines is not the solution to this problem,” he continued.
"We welcome the secretary of state’s intention to prioritise the flow of medicines and vaccines. But with just 16 weeks until the UK leaves the EU, we need the detail.
"The government should take immediate action to open up alternative supply routes between the UK and Europe and tell companies so that they can make plans,” urged Thompson.
Deal or no deal?
Whether the UK and the EU will agree to withdrawal terms ahead of March 2019 remains uncertain, following the UK prime minister’s announcement yesterday to postpone MPs’ vote on her Brexit deal.
According to the BBC, May plans to return to Brussels and renegotiate the deal. The final deadline for the vote is January 21, 2019.