LONDON – The UK government urged pharmaceutical companies to stockpile a six-week supply of medicines before the country finally leaves the European Union’s customs regime at the end of the year, in an effort to avoid shortages of drugs.
“Holding additional stock in the UK provides a further buffer against some disruption,” said Steve Oldfield, chief commercial officer at the health department, in a letter published on the government’s website on Monday (Aug 3).
“We encourage companies to make stockpiling a key part of contingency plans.”
Britain is readying for potential economic turmoil when the Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year as commerce with the EU will be subject to new bureaucracy even if a new free-trade agreement is agreed in the short time left for talks.
The letter acknowledges a significant percentage of medical supplies in Britain come from the EU.
If companies are not prepared for the extra burden, trade across the English Channel risks being held up, which would threaten vital supply lines.
As under previous no-deal Brexit planning, the government said it has retained dedicated freight capacity for bringing in essential goods such as medicines.
But it also encouraged pharmaceutical companies to prepare alternative routes for bringing goods into the UK, bypassing the congested Dover-Calais crossing.
“Companies are encouraged to review their own logistics arrangements and consider making plans for avoiding the short straits as a matter of priority,” Oldfield said.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which represents major drug makers, said it had managed to maintain stocks through the coronavirus pandemic but it still needed further information from the government about Brexit.
“Detailed guidance is still urgently required from government on issues like freight capacity, ferry routes and the Northern Ireland Protocol,” said David Watson, ABPI’s interim executive director for commercial policy, in a statement on its website.
The call for more stockpiling drew criticism from the opposition Scottish National Party, which supports Scotland breaking away from the UK and joining the EU as an independent country.
“It is reckless beyond belief that the Tory government is putting its Brexit obsession ahead of the health and livelihoods of millions of people across the UK,” shadow health secretary Philippa Whitford said in a statement.
“It is hard to see how the Tory government can completely avoid all drug shortages in the face of Brexit and Covid-19.”