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UK life sciences industry does not want no-deal Brexit, says ABPI Chief

Published on 19/10/20 at 02:08pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s sudden change of position that the UK is now expecting a no-deal scenario with the European Union in their ongoing Brexit negotiations has triggered alarm bells in the life sciences industry, with warnings that such an outcome could be disastrous for the supply and cost of medicines as the UK battles a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic over the winter.

The principle disagreements between the two parties hinge on access to the UK’s fishing waters, but the UK pharmaceutical industry has voiced concern that failure to agree a deal could lead to delays or shortages of key medicines amidst a rising pandemic. In the event the UK leaves on no-deal terms, there is fear that this could lead to a duplication of standards and regulations across the two regions which could potentially cost “many, many millions” and lead to up to six weeks of supply delays.  

In a statement released the same day as Johnson’s no-deal warning on 16 October, Richard Torbett, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), remarked: “No-deal is not in the interest of patients, the pharmaceutical industry, or the economies of the UK and the EU. As long as a window of opportunity remains, negotiators must keep talking and agree a comprehensive deal.

“They must ensure medicines supplies are uninterrupted and that a way forward for patients in Northern Ireland is urgently found,” he added. “Our members are preparing for the end of the transition period at the same time as coronavirus cases rise across Europe. This should be enough to focus minds.”

The UK exports around 45 million medicine packages to the EU every month, with around 37 million coming the other way during the same period – 12 million of which are supplied to the NHS alone.

Disruption could easily occur in the absence of harmonised regulation, and while it is very difficult to predict which medicines will be affected, it is likely patients with chronic conditions will be hit hardest. Drug firms have amassed stockpiles of certain products as a contingency plan ahead of the new year, but these have been strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s no guarantee they would mitigate the shortages a no-deal outcome could trigger – particularly those with short shelf-lives.

Matt Fellows

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