I’d written out a big old blog about how Brexit will affect those of us who need prescription drugs to have a better quality of life, or to just live in my case.Then this article by Ash Soni, the president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society popped up in the Guardian.
The jist is simple enough. Over the last 45 years we’ve built up links across the EU so drugs are not manufactured in the UK in the numbers they were, but here’s Soni to explain.
Let’s take a look at how medicines get from the factory to our local pharmacy. This is, by its nature, an international business. The active ingredients needed are often manufactured in India and the far east. These are then transported to manufacturing plants that turn them into the tablets and liquids that come in prescribed form. Many of the factories that supply the UK are elsewhere in Europe. From there, they are sent to wholesalers here who then distribute them to pharmacies and hospitals to be dispensed to patients. The entire process has to be carefully managed to ensure that everything happens in a timely way – particularly for medicines with short shelf lives, such as lifesaving EpiPens needed for those with severe allergies; or those with special requirements, such as insulin, which needs to be kept at between 2C and 8C at all times.
The goods that benefit from free movement across Europe include medicines. The pharmaceutical supply industry has adapted itself to these arrangements. So any big, sudden change, whether it’s leaving the customs union and single market, or negotiations breaking down resulting in no deal, has the potential to create major problems. Delays at ports, increased costs and legal or regulatory differences are among the issues.
It’s one of those things the Brexiters, and the Lexiters, dismiss. ”How did we cope before the EU?’. Well, the answer is we coped within the limits we had then which means 45 years ago when we joined the EU (Or the EEC as it was then) the life expectancy of a man was 69 and a woman 71 compared to 79 and 82 now. In short, the development of new drugs and a general raising of standards of living not to mention the fact there’s not been a Europe-wide conflict since 1945 means we’re living longer, and thnings that used to kill us are now treatable.
Break down the finely-tuned supply chain, or even delay the drug supply for a day or longer will lead to ill people suffering, even dying. In my case I take eight pills a day to keep me alive. To take just one, thyroxine, there are two companies with the license to import it into the UK where it is branded accordingly. In liquid form it can be stockpiled up to 32 weeks, in tablet form 28 weeks. Not bad you may think but millions of people take it to help with conditions like an underactive thyroid to people like me who had their thyroid removed because of cancer. Pharmacies only hold stock for a week at a time, sometimes less in smaller branches and right now nobody is stockpiling or starting up manufacturing of the drug in the UK. To quote Soni again;
So what are the solutions? There is some manufacturing capacity in the UK but not nearly enough to meet the entire country’s demand for medicine. Trying to increase capacity can be done but would take a considerable amount of time, as any new facility needs to be approved for producing high-quality, safe medicines. Some, such as those that produce insulin, have very particular specifications. As a result, “just making more medicines here” cannot be the solution.
There is some discussion about stockpiling, but the immediate question is how could such vast quantities of drugs be stored in the appropriate environments (remember that some, for example, need to be kept cold)?
Then there is the issue of paying for the medicines. A stockpile lasting three months equates to around £4.5bn, which is an incredible amount of money. At the moment pharmacies don’t get paid until the medicines are dispensed. How could they afford to buy the amounts required? That’s before you even get to the question of shelf lives, which for some medicines are short.
The UK could leave the EU with no deal in March 2019. Overnight we become a sole nation with no infrastructure to deal with this, so if you’re a diabetic you’ll be one of the first to feel the shortages which will hit and hit hard.
All of this was warned about when the EU referendum was taking place. All of it is avoidable but the Tories, helped by a supine opposition, rushed into invoking Article 50 with no plan and the last bit of control the UK had went so we’ve been on a course for no deal for nearly two years and only now are people taking it seriously because it may hit them. For Brexiters and Lexiters there is no reasoning with them. For them it is now a matter of faith. Indeed some Brexiters are looking forward to this self-imposed immolation because the prize is so close for them that vast numbers of people suffering needlessly and dying is worth it.
And this is only one way Brexit could kill you. I’ve not discussed how food standards, and health and safety legislation being dropped leaves the population open to the sort of thing that’s common in the US, which is where Brexiters are looking to provide us with food. So I ask, I even implore you to contact your MP and if they’re not already against Brexit then push them. Make it clear you hold them culpable for anything that’s coming because I hold every Brexiter/Lexiter responsible however we’re entering the time where we cannot turn back so do what you can and prepare yourselves.