The prospect of a hard Brexit raises concerns for the supply of vital forms medication both in the UK and in Europe, specifically for the supply of insulin used by diabetics whose recipients include British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Nearly all the insulin in Britain is imported from Denmark and patients depend on just-in-time delivery as insulin must be refrigerated at all times.
A number of hardline Brexit campaigners have dismissed the danger, saying those that are sounding the alarm bell are engaging in a form of fear-mongering on behalf of those who oppose the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
British officials have issued assurances that the government will prioritise medical supplies over food and medical supplies will not be disrupted. There are, however, a number of concerns regarding the supply of medication on the other side of the channel.
British manufactures produce about 250 types of medicine that are imported to Finland for various conditions. Some of Finland’s 10 most-widely sold medicines are UK-made.
The director of Finland’s Medicines Agency, Esa Heinonen, said he could not disclose which medicines might become unavailable or how many people in Finland would be affected. The fear, in this case, is that UK manufacturers supply cancer medication for long-term care treatment for which there is no similar or alternative supply.
Companies have yet to inform the national drug agency of any possible disruptions in their supply chain, although by law they are required to provide two months of advance notice. Due to the lack of clarity surrounding the current situation, a special arrangement to cover drug supplies is under consideration, according to Heinonen. Doctors are likely to change their treatment plans for medication that can be substituted said Kati Myllymäki, the head of the Finnish Medical Association.
If the UK leaves the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement, importing and exporting medicines to/from the EU will be subject to customs checks. This has left both the UK and Finland will little choice but to look into the possibility of stockpiling their supplies of pharmaceuticals.
Finland has, according to the spokeswoman of a Finnish pharma lobby group, Sanna Lauslahti, buffer stocks in place that should allow the management of supply disruptions. In the long run, the relocation of drug manufacturing operations in the EU may be inevitable. Some UK pharmaceuticals have relocated both their personnel and operations and are expected to continue to with this policy so long as uncertainties remain over the UK’s relationship with Europe once Brexit becomes a reality on March 29.
The British government has asked drug companies to stockpile six-weeks worth of medicines to supplement their normal supplies. London is also looking into chartering planes to fly in certain types of medicine that may not be available post-Brexit and is also seeking additional capacity on various shipping routes across the English Channel. The government has, in addition, purchased 5,000 refrigerators for medical supply storage.
The British government is calling on people not to stockpile their personal supplies and for doctors not to issue more prescriptions in order not to increase demand and lower stocks.