Medicine shortages ‘may occur’ as chief medical officer warns against stockpiling

Scots have been told they should not be “stockpiling” medicines amid growing concerns of a no-deal Brexit.

The Scottish Government’s chief medical officer issued the stark warning yesterday, alongside an admission that shortages may occur. The situation has been branded “unbelievable and unacceptable” by medical leaders.

Ministers have even set out new “serious shortage protocols” to allow pharmacists to dispense different strengths and formulas of medicines to cope.

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Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood and Dr Rose Marie Parr, the chief Pharmaceutical Officer, have penned a joint letter to the country’s leading health professionals insisting that arrangements are in place to ensure “continuity of supply” of medicines and medical devices from Europe.

Nicola Sturgeon arrives with Brexit secretary Mike Russell for First Ministers Questions in the Scottish Parliament yesterday. Picture: Getty

The statement says that Scottish ministers are seeking to ensure people will still get the medicines and medical supplies “as far as is possible” if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Pharmaceutical companies have stockpiled medicines. Across the UK, the NHS has also stockpiled other supplies like medical devices and clinical consumables.

If a no-deal does result in the feared hold-ups at UK Borders as rigorous customs checks are suddenly undertaken, medical supplies are to be given “priority for entry”. “Members of the public, GPs, community pharmacies and hospitals should not stockpile,” the letter states.

“Shortages may occur, but the NHS will manage the situation and if necessary provide suitable alternatives or other treatment while supply is restored to normal levels.” But if the lack of supplies intensifies, the medical chiefs revealed individual “serious shortage protocols” may be authorised.

These would allow pharmacists to “amend prescriptions to dispense a different strength, formulation or an alternative medicine”.

“These protocols will be time limited,” the letter states.

The letter was sent to NHS chief executives and heads of drugs departments in the NHS, as well as council heads and social care bosses.

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of BMA’s Scottish Council, said: “The fact that action is being taken to prepare for any potential shortages of medicine is welcome. However, it is simply unbelievable and frankly totally unacceptable that it has even come to this.”

Aileen Bryson, deputy director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland, said pharmacists already dealt with medicine shortages on a “daily basis”.

“The contingency plans are there, but nobody really knows what’s going to happen until it happens and we know what the deal is,” she said.

The government has established its own Medicines Shortage Response Group for Scotland to monitor the situation. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has meanwhile said stopping Brexit must be the “top priority” as she claimed it was now possible for the UK to remain part of the European Union.

She argued the “mess” created by the Conservatives in the Brexit process could provide pro-EU politicians with a means of preventing the UK’s exit. “This whole process, thanks to the Tories, is now such a mess that stopping Brexit altogether must now be our top priority,” she said..”