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Stockpiling six weeks worth of medicines after a no-deal Brexit could take over a year due to creating extra storage for drugs that need to be kept in certain conditions, a Government committee has heard.
Speaking before the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday [23 October], wholesalers’ body the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) executive director Martin Sawer explained that building new cold-chain warehouses for medicines that need refrigeration might take more than a year.
In August, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said that pharmaceutical companies had been asked to hold an additional six-weeks supply of medicines if the UK failed to reach a Brexit deal by the 29 March deadline.
‘Usually planned two years ahead of schedule’
Asked by the committee how quickly it would be to “put up a large cold-chain supply storage”, Mr Sawer said it could take “more than a year”.
He added: “From my experience of pre-wholesale building capacity, they usually plan for at least two years ahead of time because they [need] regulatory approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“There are more regulations required with cold-chains than ambient storage.”
Certain medicines, such as vaccines, must be kept in refrigerators and transported between 2°C and 8°C so as not to lose their effectiveness or become harmful.
Tens of millions in costs
Speaking alongside Mr Sawer, chief executive Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) chief executive Mike Thompson added that there are currently not enough cold-chain warehouses in the UK to cover the Government’s stockpiling plans.
The pharmaceutical industry trade association chief added that a significant part of the supply chain needs cold-chain storage, with half of the new medicines approved last year requiring that type of storage.
Responding to those claims, Mr Hancock told the committee that he “did not accept that it takes a year to put up refrigerated sheds”.
He said: “It may be the case that someone has had an example of where it has taken a year but you can do it quicker.
“We have issued an invitation to tender (ITT) for additional storage capacity. The storage capacity we’re looking for is either additional storage that is ready for Brexit-related demand, space that can be converted to medical storage or new facilities.”
Although he could not give an exact figure, Mr Hancock said the ITT could costs the taxpayers “in the low tens of millions of pounds”.