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EU plan for medicine stockpile could worsen UK’s record shortages

The EU is to stockpile key medicines that will worsen the record drug shortages in the UK, with experts warning that the country could be left “behind in the queue”.

The EU is seeking to safeguard its supplies by switching to a system in which its 27 members work together to secure reliable supplies of 200 commonly used medications, such as antibiotics, painkillers and vaccines.

But the bloc’s move to insulate itself from growing drug shortages threatens to exacerbate the increasing scarcity of medicines facing the NHS, posing serious problems for doctors.

“Europe is securing access to key drugs and vaccines as a single region, with huge influence and buying power. As a result of Brexit the UK is now isolated from this system, so our drug supplies could be at risk in the future,” said Dr Andrew Hill, an expert on the pharmaceutical trade.

Britain is experiencing a record level of drug shortages, with more than 100 – including treatments for cancer, type 2 diabetes and motor neurone disease – scarce or impossible to obtain.

Mark Dayan, the Brexit programme lead at the Nuffield Trust health thinktank, said the EU’s decision to act as a buying cartel could seriously disadvantage Britain.

“There is a real risk that measures in such a large neighbour, which is now a separate market due to Brexit, will leave the UK behind in the queue when shortages strike,” Dayan said.

It also has an initiative for member states to transfer stocks of medicine to cover shortages in others. These measures could shut UK purchasers out in certain scenarios.

“This would risk worsening shortages from a starting point where they are already exceptionally severe for the UK and other countries, with a mounting impact in terms of costs and wasted time for the NHS, and in terms of patients struggling to get what their doctors have said they need.”

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Source: The Guardian, 25 January 2024

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