Former National Pharmacy Association (NPA) Board member Mike Hewitson has criticised community pharmacy bodies, notably the PSNC, for failing to show the sector that they are explaining to the public and government the “critical” role pharmacies play in ensuring patients have continuous access to medicines with a potentially damaging Brexit looming.

Concerns are festering that the UK could face a significant drugs shortage especially in the event of a no-deal scenario and a letter sent last month by eight organisations to the health secretary Matt Hancock called for an urgent roundtable meeting of “key parties” to make sure there is strong co-ordination between the NHS, manufacturers and suppliers.

One of the signatories to the letter sent on October 30 was the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) who are also a member of the Pharmacy Brexit Forum which was set up by the PSNC earlier this year to discuss the supply of medicines to UK pharmacies post-Brexit.

Hewitson questioned why the PSNC was not a co-signatory of the letter given the HDA’s membership of the negotiator’s forum and said that even if pharmacy organisations were talking to stakeholders “behind closed doors,” it was a case that “for ordinary members perception is reality.”

“PSNC has established a Brexit forum which is a welcome step but why didn’t they co-sign this letter? The PSNC group includes HDA as a member yet HDA is off talking directly to government on this issue,” Hewitson told Independent Community Pharmacist (ICP).

“I think community pharmacy organisations, in an effort to be collaborative with government, aren’t putting sufficient emphasis on our critical role in the resilience of the medicines supply chain.”

Hewitson, who resigned from the NPA board in April in protest at the election of Lexon UK director Nitin Sodha as chairman, added: “I am no longer involved in any of these organisations, so it may be that they are doing it, but I am disappointed that while medicines are a critically important issue for the public in these negotiations, I don’t see or hear community pharmacy organisations explaining our critical role to the public or to government.

“RPS (Royal Pharmaceutical Society) to be absolutely fair are the only organisation I have seen taking this issue on. The others might be doing it behind closed doors but for us ordinary members, perception is reality.”

When asked if the likes of the PSNC, RPS and NPA should be part of any roundtable meeting with the government, Hewitson said: “Yes absolutely community pharmacy should be represented at the roundtable discussion if and when it takes place.

“The only message community pharmacy has received from DH about Brexit contingency planning is ‘don’t stockpile, we’re going to get manufacturers and wholesalers to do it for you.’"

A spokesperson from the PSNC, whose Brexit forum met for the first time in September, told ICP: “PSNC is representing the interests of community pharmacies in important discussions on Brexit as part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s EU Brexit Medicines working group.

“We are also working closely with the other national pharmacy organisations via our Brexit Forum. PSNC established a Brexit Forum to bring together stakeholders from across the supply chain to raise concerns about Brexit and discuss our ongoing work on this topic.

“Forum members may choose to engage in joint work but we are all also doing our own work in relation to our particular concerns.

“Representatives from DHSC attended the last Brexit Forum meeting and were told very clearly by PSNC and others about the vital role of community pharmacies in ensuring that patients get their medicines and about our concerns about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.

“PSNC’s objective is to persuade the government to do all that it can to ensure that community pharmacies and their patients are not adversely affected by Brexit, and we are in dialogue with the Department and politicians about this.”

 

The PSNC also told ICP the government needed to consider the following points;

  • The competitive market in generic medicines which, over the years has driven down costs for the NHS, may behave differently in a time of crisis, leading to supply issues and an increase in the cost of medicines.
  • Community pharmacies need to have the ability exercise appropriate professional discretion to ensure the continuity of an alternative equivalent medicine to patients, responding to patient need.
  • Patient and prescribing behaviour needs to be considered and reassurances given and measures taken, as appropriate, to ensure stocks remain available for as long as appropriate to ensure the continuity of supply to patients.
  • Additional costs to the community pharmacy sector must be considered and measures taken to ensure community pharmacy has quick and clear reimbursement information, and there is appropriate regulatory and practical support to ensure the continuity of medicine supplies to patients.
  • Issues associated with the Falsified Medicines Directive should be considered including its importance, its cost and implementation approximately one month before Brexit.
  • The resilience of the supply chain and work of community pharmacy teams battling to secure supply despite the current issues with medicine shortages should be considered.
     

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