UK wholesalers have warned that Brexit could have serious consequences for the medicines supply chain, including shortages and rising prices.
In an open letter, the wholesalers' trade body the Healthcare Distribution Association warned that Brexit could hinder their ability to parallel import medicines into the UK. If the UK were to leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union, common trademark regulations could be lost and UK-based distributors would no longer be able to easily and swiftly import medicines from the rest of the European Economic Area. This could increase the risk of medicines shortages in the UK and a rise in the cost of medicines for the NHS.
The HDA points out that parallel imports provide both certainty of supply when there is not enough UK stock (because of a sudden spike in demand), and incentivised purchasing competition which saves the NHS over £100m a year, on current estimates.
If the UK were to fall outside of the regime that allows for the common licensing of medicines across the EEA, manufacturers may choose not to market their product in the UK at all due to the associated costs and relatively small population, according to the HDA. The UK would further lose its attractiveness for the early adoption of medicines when the European Medicines Authority moved to another EU state, with the potential loss of ancillary pharmaceutical services.
The HDA also expressed concern about the impact of Brexit on the ability of employers to source appropriately qualified staff. "We would not like to see Brexit negotiations ending the advantages of the appropriate freedom of workers to come to the UK," it said. "It is also highly important that the UK maintains the parity of qualifications for healthcare professionals that ensures that British regulated healthcare standards are sufficiently aligned with the EU’s equivalents, enabling European health professionals to practise in UK pharmacies, hospitals and GP surgeries, with whom our businesses have long-standing business partnerships and relationships.