NHS warns that UK could face drugs shortages after Brexit stockpile has been used to fight COVID-19

pharmafile | October 6, 2020 | News story | Manufacturing and Production  

The NHS has warned that hospitals could face shortages of drugs during the second wave of coronavirus due to the medicine that was originally stockpiled for Brexit already being used. 

NHS Providers represents hospitals in England and warned that coronavirus, flu, job layoffs and NHS staff burnout could create huge problems over the winter period. The looming threat of Brexit also puts further emphasis on the drug shortages the country is facing. 

Saffron Cordery, the Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said: “All of the issues we feared about Brexit remain. None of those have gone away because we are in a pandemic. It’s important to remember drug supplies could be compromised. What we were relying upon in Brexit was a supplies stockpile. I would suggest we have eaten into that stockpile because of COVID. We need to think about what the stockpiles are looking like.”

NHS Providers said that the first wave had seen problems with supplies of ventilators and anaesthesia, and as these are imported mainly from Europe, the terms of a Brexit agreement threaten this supply chain. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care declined to say if any of the drugs in the Brexit stockpile had been used up, but did say: “We hold a range of stockpiles for a variety of medicines, including crucial treatments used to treat COVID-19 patients to help ensure there is uninterrupted supply. As part of our contingency plans we have also asked suppliers to stockpile at least six weeks’ worth of medicines, as part of a robust and flexible multi-layered approach which also includes re-routing supply chains and being ‘trader ready’.”

There is also concern about the huge backlog of patients waiting for vital care, including ones with life-threatening conditions. Despite hospitals being told they can provide 80% of normal services by the end of September, most still are not. A Royal College of Surgeons of England survey found that only one in seven surgeons can treat the same number of patients as before the pandemic started. This is due to the need for regular cleaning, social distancing and the time it takes to safely put on and take off personal protective equipment.

Conor Kavanagh

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