NHS Medicines Shortages: Due to Brexit?

So here down in leafy Hampshire there are reputed shortages of certain medicines and generally there are undeniably shortages of some drugs in hospital dispensaries across the UK.

Some people are worried by this, including insulin-dependent privateers who are reputedly stock-piling insulin by over-stating their requirement, blagging it out of GP’s, or buying it on the direct online markets.

Question: Is this due to Brexit?

So juxtapose two facts: (1) the UK has not left, nor come anywhere close to leaving, the EU yet and (2) the first duty of any Government is to protect its citizens, especially the old, ill and infirm who are in urgent need of medical supplies.

Given that we haven’t ‘Brexited’ yet on any terms, no-deal, withdrawal agreement or otherwise, it is a bit rich to say that the current shortages are “due to Brexit”. Admittedly, there may be a nebulous Brexit effect, but it is rather difficult to say exactly what this might be.

Meanwhile, the number of drugs on the concession list has rocketed to almost 100 because generic prices are apparently roaring away. I wonder exactly who is playing who here? I note that in December 2018 the NHS included Tadalafil 5 mg on the concessions list and paid an extra quarter of a million for the 400,000 odd units supplied. So it is true, though perhaps a bit music-hall, to say that prices are not the only thing that are going up.

Then there are reports of pharma companies being asked to stock-pile certain drugs by the DHSC no-deal Brexit swat team under cover of NDA Agreements that PM Theresa May has herself referred to as ‘unethical’ whilst others say are ‘routine’. Again, the truth seems to be a foreign country in this area. But stock-piling by pharma companies, or private interests in anticipation of a profit and by the T1D brigade fearful of a drying up of insulin supply, will lead to a dearth of packets, tubes and phials on the dispensary shelf.

However, it is reported by The Pharmaceutical Journal, that perhaps the shortages are just due to across-the-board price increasesand Government’s slowness in reacting to them, one-off causes like suspension of manufacturing licences and the lack of any secondary legislation to control prices and supply.

The lack of any effective Government response may be due to the preoccupation with Brexit and the lack of any parliamentary time to deal with these issues, but then again secondary legislation does not really need any parliamentary time.

So, I am thinking that the medicine shortages are really not a great deal to do with Brexit but a lot to do with the Government’s failure to regulate prices and supply effectively.

The first duty of any Government is to protect its citizens. I suggest they get on with it.

Dr Gabriel Sherliker

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