Patients stockpiling drugs over Brexit fears, committee hears

Departure of UK from EU may result in ‘rationalisation’ of Irish medicine supplies

Demand for prescriptions for inhalers and blood pressure drugs had increased, while patients on biologic medicines were concerned over supplies in pharmacies, the committee heard.

Demand for prescriptions for inhalers and blood pressure drugs had increased, while patients on biologic medicines were concerned over supplies in pharmacies, the committee heard.

 

Irish patients have begun stockpiling drugs over fears of a disruptive Brexit, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

This is despite official assurances that Ireland has sufficient reserves of essential medicines to weather even a no-deal Brexit.

In the longer term, Brexit may result in fewer drugs being sold on the Irish market at higher prices, the Oireachtas health committee also heard.

Mayo Senator and GP Keith Swanick said he was beginning to see patients asking for extra drugs due to the “charade” over Brexit in the UK.

Demand for prescriptions for inhalers and blood pressure drugs had increased, while patients on biologic medicines were concerned over supplies in pharmacies, he said.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, a pharmacist, said older patients in particular were stockpiling drugs, and many were distressed over fears of shortages.

Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin said a sophisticated, well-established supply chain involving manufacturers and wholesalers was in place in Ireland for the supply of medicines. He was satisfied there would be adequate provision of drugs post-Brexit, with back-up stocks “routinely” built into the system.

“The message for patients is that there is no need to increase stock levels or ask for extra prescriptions” as to do so might “suck up” the supplies that are in place.

Mr Breslin said as things stood now there was no immediate risk to the health of the population arising from Brexit. Both the British and Irish governments had also stressed they were anxious for cross-border services to continue operating as normal.

Ireland was unlikely to face serious issues with the supply of drugs after Brexit on March 29th, as sufficient reserve stocks were built into the local supply chain, he said.

HSE national director of primary care John Hennessy said any supply change challenges were likely to relate to medicines that have a short shelf-life or that have to be refrigerated.

In relation to vaccines, there was a two-month stock in the health stock, which along with supplier company stocks gives us six months’ supply.

Supply chain modifications

Existing EU cross-border schemes that allow Irish patients to access health services in the UK would continue, Mr Breslin said. For the institutions involved, the inclusion of Irish patients gives them a greater critical mass. “If they were to lose that, it would undermine their services.”

In relation to the mutual recognition of qualifications between the UK and Ireland, automatic recognition would cease post-Brexit but a “low administration, seamless approach between regulators” would be put in place.

Seventy per cent of the medicines on the Irish market are manufactured in the UK or are supplied through it. However, significant supply chain modifications are underway, with some manufacturers making arrangements to come directly to Ireland and others separating loads that were destined for the UK and the Republic, Mr Breslin said.

Generic drugs

While the Irish drugs market is “intermingled” with the UK at present, after Brexit manufacturers and suppliers may look at the smaller Irish market and decide it is not worth supplying or seek to vary their terms, he warned.

This was potentially an issue with generic drugs, where suppliers might decide there was a lot of extra work to do and opt not to continue supplying Ireland.

Dr Lorraine Nolan, chief executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority, pointed out that generics manufacturers work on smaller margins. “Brexit may mean the cost of supplying the Irish market may go up, and over time we may see a rationalisation of portfolios of medicines supplied to the Irish market.”