Intended for healthcare professionals


How will Brexit affect the supply of medicines?

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 06 November 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4303

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  1. Mark Dayan, Brexit programme lead
  1. Nuffield Trust, UK
  1. Mark.Dayan{at}

In the first of a series of briefings as we near the end of the Brexit transition period, Mark Dayan looks at the potential effect of leaving the European Union on the supply of drugs to UK patients

What impact will the end of the transition period have on the supply of drugs and other medical products to the UK?

Starting from day one, 1 January 2021, the government expects new checks and bureaucracy at the short crossings between the UK and France to create immediate disruption for several months.1 A number of measures have been taken to try to reduce the impact of this on the availability of drugs and devices.

The government is again asking drug suppliers to build up a six week stockpile and is building up its own stockpile of devices and consumables. Ahead of previous possible “no deal” dates, stockpiling on this scale did seem to take place for drugs, but not for devices. The government is also making allowances delays in key customs processes2 and arranging new routes into the UK, including rapid air freight for urgent supplies.

This, however, will still mean a major logistical and legal shift overnight. In the context of already high and sensitively triggered3 generic drug shortages in recent years, it would take a lot of bravery to promise no shortfalls would occur, and ministers and NHS leaders have generally avoided saying so. This extra bureaucracy is also likely to cause a permanent increase of several percentage points in the cost of drugs.4 The NHS may face paying more, or companies may not see it as viable to bring products to …

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