The UK Government is banning the export of certain key drugs to alleviate shortages and ‘protect UK patients’ weeks ahead of the 31st October Brexit deadline.
Most of the 24 medicines that wholesalers will not be able to sell outside of the UK from midnight tonight are hormone replacement therapies (HRT) used to treat menopause symptoms.
The list also includes EPiPens, anti-blood-clotting drugs and hepatitis B vaccines.
Pharmacists will also get special powers under a new provision to alter prescriptions of anti-depressant fluoxetine.
Ministers are writing to drugs wholesalers to warn the UK medicines regulator will take action to stop parallel exporting.
This is when wholesalers import medicines to the UK but sell them on elsewhere in the EU when prices in other markets rise – a practice that would become more attractive if the pound weakens.
Stocks of HRT and some other drugs have been disrupted in recent months because of manufacturing, supply and demand issues.
Dr Farah Jameel, who represents GPs through the British Medical Association, said this had gone on “far too long”.
“Drug supply issues are common, and while clinicians can prescribe alternative medication, amending a patient’s prescription takes time and this can significantly add to our already heavy workload – particularly if the issue is ongoing.
“More importantly, prescribing alternative interim medication might not always help to fully relieve a patient’s symptoms, further delaying their treatment and causing avoidable, unnecessary distress to the patient.
“The menopause can be a very difficult time for many women, so it’s essential that they have access to the medication they need when they need it.”
Yet restrictions on other drugs come as the chances of a no-deal Brexit rise.
While pharmaceutical companies are supposed to be building up reserves of key medicines, the public spending watchdog warned last month overall stocks are still ‘unknown’.
Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman said plans to stockpile, warehouse and fast-track medicines are “not normal or sensible”.
UK health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “The new measures we’re introducing today will help us ensure patients get the medicines they need and the high-quality care they deserve.
“Helping the NHS is a priority for this government, and people should be fully reassured that we will always act to ensure that there is an adequate supply of the medicine you need.”
Dr Rick Greville, director of supply chain at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, welcomed the “precautionary measures”.
“It means that these stockpiles of medicines which companies have built over previous months are better protected and available for use only by the NHS patients for which they were intended.”
This story was supplied as part of our partnership with healthandcare.scot.