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“The inevitable plummet over the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit”

08 October 2018, at 2:51pm

The readers of this magazine are mainly vets. But we are also a mixed group of, for example, employees of small companies, employees of large companies, business owners, farmers, UK and non-UK nationals, etc. You also will have voted in different ways in the Brexit referendum. However, I can be fairly sure that what unites us is that not a single soul reading this will have voted to be in the mess we now find ourselves in as Brexit draws near. This has culminated in the various departments of state writing documents to prepare us all for what now seems like the inevitable plummet over the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit.

One of the many aspects that directly affects our profession is that of pharmaceutical supplies, as many are produced in the EU and will need to be imported after Brexit. Like mine, I am sure your ears pricked up when the NHS and pharmaceutical suppliers were reported to be advised by the government to stock up on six weeks’ worth of supplies. Imagine the supply chain blip (if we can call it that) with the entire NHS ordering six weeks’ worth of drugs in a single day.

Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, has written an open letter to the health service and I will quote a few relevant pieces here:

“I am writing to provide an update on the government’s ongoing preparations for a March 2019 ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario and what the health and care system needs to consider as we step up preparations over the autumn and in the period leading up to March 2019.

“In the unlikely event we leave the EU without a deal in March 2019, based on the current cross government planning scenario… pharmaceutical companies should ensure [that] they have an additional six weeks’ supply of medicines in the UK on top of their own normal stock levels.

“The government recently announced that doctors and nurses are now exempt from the cap on skilled worker visas. This means that there will be no restrictions on the number of doctors and nurses who can be employed through the Tier 2 visa route.

“In the meantime, where appropriate, preparations for a March 2019 ‘no deal’ scenario should be seen in the context of the work you are already doing to update your existing business continuity plans.”

To help me translate what this all may mean for veterinary medicine supplies, I have been in touch with two major wholesalers and have been assured, without being given any detail, that they are making plans for Brexit.

To get another perspective, I contacted Ashley Gray, MRCVS and MD of Vetsure Pet Insurance and Buysure for Vets buying group, for some practice level advice. As well as providing pet insurance and the buying group services, Vetsure provides a range of services to their UK-wide membership base and continually seeks proactive solutions to issues for its members before they become full blown crises. Vetsure is in continual contact with practices all over the UK. Ashley responded with a useful summary:

“Manufacturers and wholesalers seem to be offering a cross-section of responses when questioned about their planning for no-deal Brexit. What is clear is that nobody is offering a guarantee of supply maintenance and nor can they. Some don’t believe there will be an issue and are either not taking action or not sharing the details of their plans, whereas others are clearly arranging for substantial stockpiling in the wholesalers – the latter will cause a substantial financial burden which will inevitably mean that wholesalers have to be selective. Some suppliers are planning for the potential need to obtain UK licenses for drugs currently operating on EU centralised licenses – there is universal condemnation of the extra cost that this will entail.

“Our advice to members would be to consider increasing their stocks marginally for key products including ‘peripheral’ drugs such as non-licensed and controlled drugs – the latter may experience particular challenges. But at this time, there is little else that practices can do other than watch this space and leave in the hands of the wholesalers and manufacturers to consider stock-piling where necessary.”

Well, however you voted in Brexit, the outlook for a decent deal looks poor. I am reminded of an Irish joke: An Englishman is touring Ireland and stops to ask a farmer directions to the next village. The farmer ponders for a moment and then responds, “Well, to be honest wit’ you, if you are going there, I wouldn’t start from here.”

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