- With the risk of a no-deal Brexit rising, major pharmaceutical companies have stepped up contingency planning and begun increasing stockpiles of medicines to ensure supply if cross-border trade is disrupted.
- On Friday, Swiss pharma Novartis said it is building "increased inventories" of medicines across its drug portfolio in the U.K. Each year, the drugmaker imports 120 million packs of medicines into the U.K. from Europe.
- Novo Nordisk last week said it plans to increase its insulin stockpiles to about 18 weeks worth by the end of March, up from its usual levels of about seven weeks, Bloomberg reported. The Danish diabetes drugmaker has also booked flights for air cargo so it can more easily bring insulin in if there are backups at the border resulting from a no-deal Brexit.
Novartis and Novo Nordisk are not alone in its decision to stockpile goods — 75% of warehouse owners in the U.K. say their space is at capacity, according to The Guardian.
The reason for worry is the deadline for withdrawing from the European Union — March 29 — is quickly approaching. If this date arrives and there isn't a new deal drawn up, then trade between the EU and U.K. will be subject to World Trade Organization rules including customs checks and tariffs. This could lead to higher prices and shortages for some items, according to The Week.
"Divergence from the close regulatory and legal cooperation that exists today between the UK and the EU has far-reaching implications for the way the life sciences sector operates and its ability to develop and deliver medicines for UK patients," Novartis wrote in its statement.
Diabetes UK — a non-profit organization supporting people with diabetes — raised this issue last year, saying more than 1 million people in the U.K. suffer from diabetes.
"Insulin isn't an optional extra for people with diabetes who rely on it, so it's incredibly important that those companies involved in its production and supply, and those involved in guaranteeing its entry into the UK, work together to ensure supply continues uninterrupted," Diabetes UK said.
The government is aware a no-deal Brexit could be a messy situation. The U.K.'s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock provided guidance to medicine suppliers to help them plan for this possibility. Hancock suggested having six weeks of stockpiles, but also said the government was working to make sure there was a smooth transition.
"The Government recognises the vital importance of medicines and medical products and is working to ensure that there is sufficient roll-on, roll-off freight capacity to enable these vital products to continue to move freely in to the UK," Hancock wrote.
Manufacturers of medicine are not the only ones worried. The U.K. imports about 30% of its food from the EU, and a no-deal Brexit could be a struggle for smaller food suppliers and restaurants, Time reported.