U.K.'s National Health Service scrambles to prepare for 'hard Brexit'

Simon Stevens, chief executive of the U.K.'s National Health Service. (NHS)(Simon Stevens NHS)

Despite warnings about the supply train wreck that will happen if a so-called hard Brexit occurs, the U.K. and the EU have been unable to hammer out terms on how drugs will move among countries. In light of that, the National Health Services is also having to scramble to figure out how to mitigate drug shortages in the U.K.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of England’s NHS told BBC One that “significant planning” is being done to prevent drug shortages if no deal has been reached by the March 2019 deadline for the governmental divorce.  

"Nobody's pretending this is a desirable situation, but if that's where we get to it will not have been unforeseen," he said.

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Pharma has been telling elected officials since Brexit was approved that their industry is special since lives are at stake. After waiting for months without much being resolved, it too is making preparations.

Merck & Co., known as MSD outside of the U.S., reportedly has plans for stockpiling up to six months' worth of drugs and may alter delivery routes to avoid a “temporary supply blackout” if Brexit adds paperwork, time and confusion to getting drugs moved across borders.

Bloomberg reported last month that Merck is anticipating it will take as much as two extra days in delivery time to deal with stops for new regulations and tariffs. It is considering adding as many as 30 employees to its Haarlem, Netherlands, facility to deal with regulatory issues that arise.

RELATED: Pharma warns of drug supply disruptions without a Brexit deal

Sanofi is whacking a dozen jobs at its site in Haverhill in the U.K., transferring them to sites in the EU, so it has the right number of workers in the right jurisdiction once the separation occurs. This is to “adhere to the regulatory requirement for medicines used in the EU,” a spokeswoman told the Haverhill Echo.

“We will be transferring Qualified Person (QP) release, Quality Control (QC) testing and Label and Packaging for all medicines destined for the EU,” jobs that will be needed in to meet EU regulations.

The company’s responsibility is to make sure delivery of “its medicines to all patients who need them both in the U.K. and across the EU from the first day of Brexit, which will be March 29, 2019,” she added.

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One of the biggest hits to the U.K. as a result of its separation from the EU is the loss of the European Medicines Agency headquarters, which is moving to Amsterdam. The headquarters in London currently employs about 900.