• Government plans to ask drug companies to stockpile six weeks of medication in case of a no-deal Brexit
  • DHSC unlikely to cover the costs of drugs but will cover associated increase in warehousing costs
  • National officials expected to tell the NHS not to stockpile medication to prevent unnecessary spending

Drug companies are due to be asked to stockpile up to six weeks of medications ahead of a potential no deal Brexit, HSJ understands.

The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to write to pharma companies as early as next week to ask them to increase the amount of the medical stock they hold, according to multiple sources.

It is part of a plan to tackle potential import delays if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal in place.

Different suppliers currently hold different volumes of medication – the largest with around 10 weeks, but smaller firms are thought to hold about one to two weeks’ worth. Discussions are still ongoing but sources said it was expected that firms would be asked to store an additional six weeks’ stock, in addition to what they already held. 

It is understood the government will not offer additional funding for the extra medicines but will pay for increased warehousing capacity as part of a national deal with the industry. It will be a large amount of additional stock, requiring significant extra speciality storage capacity. 

The Association of British HealthTech Industries, the body that represents manufacturers of medical devices, warned last week that non-medical devices could also be delayed in the event of no-deal. It said there was “no guarantee” the UK would have enough stock by the start of April 2019.

It is understood that 90 per cent of the firms that manufacture these devices are small or medium sized businesses and may struggle to cover the costs of stockpiling.

National officials are also expected to write to NHS leaders to update them on Brexit planning.

On the basis of the proposed national arrangement with pharma, the DHSC is expected to tell NHS organisations and pharmacies not to stockpile medicines to avoid unnecessary spending.

It is unclear at what point the firms would be expected, based on the outlook for Brexit, to create the additional stock buffer.

HSJ also revealed last week widespread bulk purchasing could lead to prices “shooting up”.

The plans have been under discussion in government in recent weeks but are not completely finalised.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency published a technical notice setting out how a Brexit “implementation period” that would last until 2020 would affect the life sciences industry.

It said: “Businesses will be able to trade on the same terms as now up until the end of 2020”.

One industry insider said the document was “wishful thinking”.

In a statement the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry pointed out: “We are clear that there needs to be an implementation period but whether there will be one is still subject to negotiation”.

Some senior figures in industry are pressing for government to make the arrangements clear as soon as possible.

Sanofi UK managing director Hugo Fry last week wrote to the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock to highlight it had planned to increase its stock in the UK from about 10 weeks’ worth to 14 weeks, “from April 2019”.

He said: “Sanofi is confident that its contingency plans will ensure that people in the UK can access the treatments they need after the UK leaves the European Union. Nevertheless, we have written to the health secretary and NHS chief executive… to advise the government and NHS of our actions.”