UK Pharma Supply Could be Hit by Coronavirus and No-Deal Brexit

The pharma industry has warned that UK stockpiles of medical supplies have been completely used up during the coronavirus pandemic. They have advised the government to buy critical medicines and store them. With a no-deal brexit, this is going to be challenging.

Coronavirus and No-Deal Brexit

Medical supplies have been used up at an exponential rate due to coronavirus. If the UK fails to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, they will be unable to build up these medical stockpiles. The government has assured that they have “robust contingency plans” in place but there are many factors which may affect these plans.

Pre-Coronavirus Stockpiling

Before the pandemic, drug stockpiles in the UK were already at risk. In 2019, the government was preparing for a possible no-deal Brexit and began stockpiling. Last autumn, the UK built up a stockpile in preparation. However, this stock has dwindled during Covid and the outlook for restoring it looks bleak. In May, the internal pharmaceutical industry memo for the government warned that there will be “less or zero product available in the market to allow for stockpiling”. This is in comparison to 2019 when the government began their preparations.

Post-Coronavirus Economy

The government wants to replicate the stockpiles they built last year; however, this time they have additional challenges. They are trying to procure medical supplies in a market which is already limited. The global supply chain of pharmaceuticals is heavily disrupted. The coronavirus pandemic has lead to depleted stockpiles worldwide. Additionally, there is a lower volume of generic drugs due to disruption of pharmaceutical production, especially in India and China. Country-specific coronavirus lockdown measures meant many bottleneck situations regarding factory production, limited air freight and export bans.

No-Deal Brexit

A large proportion of the UK’s drug imports come from and via the EU, when it comes to pharmaceutical supplies. Roughly three-quarters of the 7,000 registered medicines in the UK comes from the EU. This was something that the UK was already mindful of when preparing for a no-deal Brexit. Specifically, there was concern about congestion at Dover and Calais, where 90% of imported drugs enter the UK from the EU. However, what they could not predict was the added pressure of a global pandemic and limited resources. The pharmaceutical has warned the UK government that they will need to stockpile a longer list of products than expected, if they are even available. Talk of a second wave of the pandemic makes the issues of limited supply even more of a risk factor.

Trust in Government

Following the past months, there has been talk of members of the public not totally trusting the government’s procurement skills. There have been accusations of being too slow to intervene when procuring vital personal protective equipment. The UK will therefore need to very quickly adapt in order to cope with the requirements to supply sufficient pharmaceutical supplies once the transition period with the EU ends and in the face of a potential second wave of a global pandemic.