EU Exit - Medicines FAQ's

Will I still be able to get my prescription medicines and medical products?

Yes. The UK Government is working closely with the health service and suppliers to make sure medicines and medical products continue to be available in all scenarios. Occasionally, however, the health service does experience temporary shortages of specific medicines. If this happens, you will be prescribed the best alternative to your usual medication as is normal. This will ensure that your treatment continues as normal.

Should I keep ordering my repeat prescriptions and taking my medicines as normal?

Yes. There is no need to change the way that you order prescriptions or take your medicines. Always follow the advice of GPs and other health professionals who prescribe your medicines and medical products. There are enough medicines and medical products to meet current needs but if patients order extra prescriptions, or stockpile, it will put pressure on stocks, meaning that some patients may not get the medicines they need.

Should I ask my GP for a larger or longer prescription?

No. GPs will continue to prescribe medicines and medical products as normal.

Will I still get my medicine if I am on a clinical trial?

The health service and the UK Government is working with organisations running clinical trials to ensure that research continues as normal in the coming months.  They have encouraged these organisations to consider their supply chains for clinical trials, and to ensure appropriate supplies of trial drugs and medical products are in place.

Will any routine health service operations be cancelled?

Planning for EU exit has been developed to try and make sure that there is as little impact upon the health service as possible, to prioritise care for patients in emergencies and minimise disruption to routine patient care.

What is being done to make sure medicines and medical products continue to be available?

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has been working closely with the health service, pharmaceutical companies, suppliers of medical devices, and supply chains across all of the UK to make sure medicines and medical products continue to be available in the event of a no deal EU exit.

Since 2018, DHSC has been working with all pharmaceutical companies that supply prescription-only medicines and pharmacy medicines to the UK that come from, or through, the EU or European Economic Area (EEA). 

Where these medicines have a short shelf life, DHSC has asked companies to ensure that they can fly these medicines in from the EU in the event of no deal and extra stocks are being held within the supply chain.

To ensure that there will be enough space available for extra stocks of medicines and medical products, the UK Government has secured extra warehouse space including refrigerated and controlled drug storage that companies can use to store products.

The UK Government has also put in place extra shipping for suppliers to use on a variety of routes to ease pressure on the short straits crossings to Dover and Folkestone. This includes capacity on ferries to Poole, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Immingham and Felixstowe. The UK Government has agreed that medicines and medical products will be prioritised on these alternative routes.

What medicines and medical products are being included in the stockpiles?

The stockpiling programme is for medicines and medical products that would require a prescription or that you would usually get under supervision from a pharmacist, and that are either made in the EU or contain ingredients or components that are made in the EU.

Will information about specific medicines and medical products be made available?

The health services across the UK and DHSC will be monitoring the medicines and medical products supply chain very carefully and we have well-established mechanisms to deal with supply issues when they do arise.

DHSC provides regular updates about supply issues affecting medicines used in primary care and secondary care to which are circulated to hospitals and the Health and Social Care Board for onward transmission to community pharmacies in Northern Ireland when needed. DHSC also liaises with specialist clinical groups, patient groups and other relevant networks to share information about supply issues that may affect specific patient groups.

There are existing systems in place to cascade messages quickly to the health service and others for patient safety alerts, important public health messages and other safety critical information and guidance. If a specific medicine shortage emerges then prescribers and pharmacies will be quickly alerted to the situation and advised accordingly.

What about over-the-counter medicines and medical products?

Pharmacy medicines, which can be bought over the counter from a pharmacy are covered in our stockpiling plans. General sales medicines and medical products, which can be sold in general retail outlets without the supervision of a pharmacist are not included in this stockpiling work because there are multiple alternatives available should any of these medicines and medical products be subject to a short-term supply disruption.

What about the supply of blood and blood products?

There are some medicines that are derived from blood plasma such as immunoglobulin, albumin, and clotting factors. As these are licensed medicines, they are included in the medicine supply plans.

The United Kingdom is largely self-sufficient in blood and blood components and does not routinely export or import these products, except for relatively small quantities of plasma which are imported by NHS Blood and Transplant for use in those born after 1996 as an agreed safety measure. In very special cases NHS Blood and Transplant do export or import very rare blood for urgent clinical need, usually in single unit quantities.  The NHS Blood and Transplant, is leading on the contingency planning for blood and blood components to ensure continuity of a safe blood supply.

What about vaccines?

Public Health England (PHE) manages significant stockpiles of vaccine for the national immunisation programme which includes Northern Ireland, as part of their business as usual planning. It is working closely with vaccine suppliers to ensure replenishment of these existing stockpiles continues in the event of supply disruption in the UK, for example, agreeing increases in supplier’s own UK stockpiles.

DHSC is also working to ensure that there are sufficient stockpiles of vaccines for other health service and non-health service uses i.e. uses outside of the national vaccination programmes such as for travel and occupational health purposes within its medicines contingency programme.

What about unlicensed medicines and specials?

DHSC has met many unlicensed and specialist suppliers and asked them to ensure that they have a minimum of six weeks additional supply in the UK in case of a no deal scenario. Other suppliers are also being contacted. In addition, unlicensed medicines and specials manufacturers are working to ensure sufficient ingredients in the UK to ensure continuity of supply. As with other medicines, unlicensed medicines will be prioritised in the UK Government’s agreed alternative.

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