Additional action needs to be taken to help with medicine stockpiling in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the health secretary has claimed.
Ministers are now drawing up plans to fly in vital drugs and give priority to lorries carrying medical supplies at gridlocked ports, following the latest government assessment, which suggests supplies arriving at Dover and Folkestone may be delayed for up to six months in a ‘worst-case scenario’.
In a letter in August, Mr Hancock encouraged pharmaceutical companies to stockpile at least six week’s additional supply in the event of a no-deal Brexit, however today admitted this may not be sufficient.
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In a new letter to the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS today, Mr Hancock wrote: “Whilst the six-week medicines stockpiling activities remain a critical part of our UK-wide contingency plan, it is clear that in light of the changed border assumptions described above this will now need to be supplemented with additional actions."
The letter comes as the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed they are consulting on the possibility of granting emergency powers to pharmacists to overrule GP’s prescriptions in the "unlikely" event of medication shortages.
A DHSC spokesperson told talkRADIO: “In the unlikely event of a shortage of any medicine it’s vital that patients continue to receive the high level of treatment they expect.
“This is a sensible approach that should reduce the time taken for alternatives to be provided to patients.”
'Pharmacists are experts in medicines'
The president of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, Simon Dukes, said he would "support" plans to give pharmacists more power in the case of a medicine shortage.
"Community pharmacists are experts in medicines and already spend a considerable amount of time sourcing medicines so that their patients can access the medicines they need, when they need them," he told talkRADIO.
“The introduction of a national ‘serious shortage protocol’ would give pharmacies more flexibility if serious shortages occur, and we support that measure.”
Mr Dukes said it made sense to allow pharmacists to use their discretion when dispensing prescriptions, including withholding prescriptions to priotise stocks for patients who are most in need, as happened in September during an Epipen shortage.
However, medical professionals have criticised the proposals, citing concerns over the short timescale.
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British Medical Association GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told talkRADIO: “While we understand the urgency of the situation, a consultation about something as crucial as the supply of medicines, put out with such a such a short timescale is very concerning.
“GPs and in fact, all doctors, will understandably be apprehensive about plans which could adversely impact patient prescriptions and their ability to deliver effective care and so it’s only right that doctors should have their say over these proposed changes.
“Despite the pressure to rush through contingency plans, we must not lose sight of our continuing role in ensuring the delivery of high-quality care to patients.”
NHS leaders have previously warned that spending on no-deal preparations would have to begin within weeks if the proposed deal is voted down on December 11.
Words: Cormac Connelly-Smith