News that European countries are working together to protect drug supplies with a stockpile of 200 critical products comes at a time when the UK faces the increasingly bleak prospect of more frequent shortages (EU drug stockpile plan could worsen UK’s record shortages, 25 January).
Generic medicines – exact copies of original patented products – fulfill 80% of all prescriptions filled by NHS patients. They also save the taxpayer £15 billion a year via a competitive market, which has meant we have enjoyed the lowest medicine prices in Europe. However, a range of threats are undermining the resilience of the UK’s generic medicine supply chain, meaning shortages are becoming much more common.
Chief among these challenges is the deteriorating performance of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Not so long ago, it took about a year to handle routine license changes. Now, due to budget cuts, it could take up to two-and-a-half years – meaning companies looking to add inventory to the market when there are shortages are frustrated. Post-Brexit challenges, government pricing schemes and a failure to recognize the importance of generic medicines mean international companies view the UK as an increasingly difficult place to operate. The result will mean that access to medicines – routine to life-changing – will become more difficult.
Chief Executive, British Generic Manufacturers Association
I know this may seem like a stupid question, but why don’t we manufacture our own drugs? It would certainly make economic sense for the NHS to have its own pharmaceutical factory that makes all the generic drugs available for its own use.