UK drug shortages swell amid Brexit supply woes, think-tank data shows

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 5:52 AM

(Reuters) – Drug shortages in the UK more than doubled between 2020 and 2023 with Brexit likely to “significantly weaken” the country’s ability to tackle supply chain snags, according to a report published by the Nuffield Trust think-tank on Thursday.

The research found drug companies issued 1,643 warnings of impending medicine shortages in 2023, compared with 648 in 2020 – the year Britain left the European Union (EU).

The increased shortages, including for key treatments such as antibiotics and epilepsy drugs, have also led to the government reimbursing pharmacies for buying drugs above their standard cost more frequently.

The price concessions increased from 20 instances per month before 2016 to a peak of 199 per month in late 2022, according to the report titled “The future for health after Brexit”.

While drug shortages have catapulted across the U.S. and Europe in recent years, Britain faces a higher risk as Brexit has lowered the value of sterling and removed the UK from EU supply chains.

The shortages have also been worsened by changes in demand patterns due to the way doctors prescribe medicines in the UK and squeezed National Health Service (NHS) budgets, the report added.

“We know many of the problems are global and relate to fragile chains of imports from Asia, squeezed by COVID-19 shutdowns, inflation and global instability,” said Nuffield Trust Brexit Programme Lead Mark Dayan.

“But exiting the EU has left the UK with several additional problems – products no longer flow as smoothly across the borders with the EU, and in the long term, our struggles to approve as many medicines might mean we have fewer alternatives available.”

UK has been slower to approve new drugs than the EU, the report said. Of all 2023 approvals, 56 drugs authorised in Europe were approved later in the UK. Eight have not been approved, while only four were approved faster.

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(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)