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How Will Brexit Affect the Medical Supply Chain?

Posted on 15.07.2019

Brexit. The topic of every circular dinner party debate in every household for the past three years and banned in most offices. Whether you voted leave or remain, the one thing everyone can agree on is that nothing seems to have gone to plan since the results of the controversial referendum were revealed. Since then the outcome of Brexit has remained uncertain, but we can hypothesise about how certain sectors may be affected, such as medicine.  


The medical supply chain is, of course, integral to keeping our hospitals and pharmacies stocked with live-saving drugs and some of the companies that supply them are European. Equally, some are based in the UK. And although according to the Financial Times, “The British government agreed last August that medicines and devices approved in one of the remaining member states could continue to be sold in the UK once it leaves the EU... the decision has yet to be reciprocated.” 


European pharma leaders are understandably unhappy with this state of affairs, calling on EU member states to do more to safeguard the supply of medicines post-Brexit. They are frustrated that industries like fishing and finance seem to have taken precedence in discussions with Britain. The same article states that “every pharma company has made changes to product supply chains as the industry has prepared for all Brexit eventualities.” No one wants to get caught off guard. 


The transfer of supplies with short shelf lives has been planned for in what Stefan Oschmann, president of the federation and chief executive of Germany-based Merck, classifies as “one of the biggest supply-chain logistics challenges our industry and our health service partners have ever faced”. And therein lies the problem. Brexit has already been postponed twice, missing both its March and April deadlines. The new date of the 31st of October feels no more certain – will it be a no-deal Brexit or will they wrangle a mutually disappointing agreement out of Juncker?  


Minister Stephen Hammond MP has weighed in on the no-deal contingency plan publishing a statement as well as communications for patients and healthcare professionals. The gist being that the “Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has been working closely with industry stakeholders to undertake considerable contingency planning for any UK exit from the EU with no ratified deal (a no-deal Brexit). The contingency plans are being made to ensure the continuity of the supply of medicines to patients in the UK.” Effectively, provisions are being made, so don’t panic. 


So, to answer our initial question, how will Brexit affect the medical supply chain? We won’t know until we know the terms of Brexit itself. However, the government is going to great pains to assure the public and members of the medical profession that the supply of medicines and medical products should be uninterrupted even in the event of exiting the EU without a deal. Whether things will run this smoothly in reality, time will tell - however, considering how well Brexit has gone so far, there could be a slightly bumpier road ahead.   

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