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Patients in the UK and European Union are grappling with shortages of crucial medicines such as antibiotics and epilepsy medication, according to a recent report by the Nuffield Trust think-tank. The research highlighted that these shortages have become the “new normal” in the UK, with significant impacts also felt in EU countries. The report emphasized that while Brexit did not cause the supply issues in the UK, it certainly exacerbated them.

Mark Dayan, Brexit program lead at the Nuffield Trust, pointed out that global factors like COVID-19 shutdowns, inflation, and instability have contributed to fragile chains of imports from Asia. However, the UK’s exit from the EU has added to the challenges by disrupting the smooth flow of products across borders and potentially limiting the availability of alternative medicines in the long term.

The study also raised concerns that being outside the EU could prevent Britain from benefiting from measures implemented by the EU to address shortages, such as initiatives to bring drug manufacturing back to Europe. One such initiative is the EU’s Critical Medicines Alliance launched in early 2024. Data analysis revealed a significant increase in notifications from drug companies warning of impending shortages in the UK, with over 1,600 alerts issued in 2023 compared to 648 in 2020.

Amidst these challenges, Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), described medicine shortages as “commonplace” and deemed it unacceptable in a modern healthcare system. The Department of Health and Social Care acknowledged that the UK is not alone in facing medical supply issues but assured that most shortages have been managed swiftly with minimal disruption to patients. The situation underscores the importance of addressing supply chain vulnerabilities and ensuring access to essential medications for patients in the UK and EU.

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