Public Health

Will Brexit affect the UK’s drug supply?

The short answer is: probably.

The long answer is that at this moment, different outcomes are possible and it’s difficult to predict which one will come to pass.

Much has been made of the UK’s decision to exit the European Union, but what’s clear is that there’s no concrete plan on how it’s going to go. The pharmaceutical industry is particularly vulnerable given that almost half of the UK’s population take prescription drugs.

It’s reasonable to assume that we’re going to see the usual stockpiling that occurs when a period of uncertainty is ahead. However, when it comes to the health industry, it’s a different ballpark.

Many people rely on medication to treat various illnesses and conditions. Hospitals need a reasonable supply of drugs and the UK cannot afford to be in a situation where there’s a chain and no supply.

Currently, the government stance is that there’s no need to stockpile any medication and that a new scheme has been put in place. Details of this scheme have not been released and as of March/April 2019, the UK has already seen a drug shortage in pharmacies all across the country.


According to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Association (EFPIA) up to £1 billion worth of medication comes from the EU into the UK. This shows the scope of the effect Brexit may have on the UK’s supply. If suitable trade deals are not put in place, medical institutions may be left in limbo.

One solution that EFPIA have taken is to stockpile medication, duplicate drug testing and transfer licenses (allowing other companies to manufacture certain medications). Additionally, plans have been made to transport medication to and from the EU via ferries. Drugs that have a short term life (how long they’re viable for) will have to be brought to the UK by plane.

However, according to an editorial in The Pharmaceutical Journal, there is evidence to suggest that Brexit isn’t the only reason for drug shortages. While the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) are keen to say that the shortages are not linked to Brexit, they’re contradicting that notion by pushing through measures that allow pharmacies to switch medications if there are shortages.

The lack of full disclosure by the Government also lends credence to the Brexit drugs shortage theory. There have been countless Brexit impact studies, but the results are often never released. This gives the impression that they are less than favourable.

Despite that, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) claim that it is easy to see how the drug shortage hasn’t necessarily been caused by Brexit. Other reasons suggested are suspended manufacturers’ licenses (halting the production of some drugs), fluctuations in the value of pound sterling (GBP) and increased margins (which is the difference between how much a drug is sold for and how much it cost to produce).

Although, there are other factors at work, it seems likely that Brexit has had and will continue to a have direct effect on the drug shortage, mostly due to the lack of clarity over how the UK Government intend to deal with the supply and chain of medicines..


Last updated: 30/05/2020


No Deal Brexit – Continuity of Medicines Supplies

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