Continuing delays to Brexit could impact on medicine and health supplies, with drugs shortages predicted and UK nationals living in Europe facing uncertainty around healthcare.
Pharmacists warned in August that medicines coming to the UK via France were ‘particularly vulnerable’ to severe delays in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and that the disruption was expected to last up to six months if Britain leaves the EU without an agreement.
With the Government missing its October 31 deadline to leave and the EU granting an extension until January 31 2020 - as well as a general election in the pipeline before Christmas - drugs and health supplies are among a raft of issues causing concern for patients and their families.
The NHS England website says that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is working closely with the NHS, wholesalers, pharmaceutical companies and suppliers of medical devices to ensure medicines and medical products will still be available in the event of a no-deal exit.
The government has put into place contingency measures, including stockpiling drugs with a long shelf life, procuring extra warehouse space for storage and arranging to fly in medicines with a short shelf life, which are not suitable for stockpiling.
According to the British Medical Journal, however, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has expressed concern about drug shortages in the event of a no-deal scenario, on the basis that three-quarters of medicines come to the UK through the main Channel crossing between the UK and France, where disruption and severe delays are expected.
Pharmacists are already experiencing difficulty in getting hold of a range of vital medicines, including HRT, antidepressants and drugs for epilepsy, diabetes, blood pressure and skin problems. A survey by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association found that there have been shortages of 21% of prescription drugs in the last three months, with 90% of pharmacists saying that the situation had worsened in the last year.
More than six in 10 (62%) of respondents said they spend an hour or more every day trying to sort out problems caused by medicine shortages, while a quarter was aware of resulting harm to patients, such as being admitted to hospital with anaphylactic shock in the absence of life-saving adrenaline autoinjectors. When asked about the effect of a no-deal Brexit, more than eight in 10 (81%) pharmacists polled said they felt that medicines shortages would get worse, with 55% believing they would get ‘much worse’.
Meanwhile, UK nationals living or working in the EU are in limbo regarding their healthcare, with access to services and medicines at risk of changing if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.
At the moment, the UK has reciprocal agreements with EU member countries regarding the healthcare of UK nationals, of which 180,000 live or work in Europe. But whether these agreements are upheld in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU remains to be seen, with decisions set to be made by each individual country.
While the UK government says seeking bilateral healthcare agreements is a top priority, UK nationals in Europe may have to pay for health services and drugs, leaving some facing substantial bills for treatment.
At ActiveQuote, we’ve also noticed that Brexit worries have led to a rise in income protection enquiries. This year, we’ve seen a spike in unemployment insurance and redundancy cover comparisons, with the highest increase in enquiries coming from customers aged between 25 and 34.