Let’s put aside the politics of Brexit and all the name-calling from both sides. At the time of writing, it looks increasingly unlikely that a deal will be obtainable. At least obtainable on anything approximating to favourable terms for the UK.

The unthinkable alternative of a ‘hard Brexit’, where we crash out of Europe without any agreement is increasingly not only thinkable but probable. So let’s assume that March 2019 comes and goes. So what, I hear you ask. Why should it matter that we keep our own goods and they keep theirs? The answer is very simple – food and medicines. Foodwise, the best we can hope for is probably less choice, higher prices and unpredictable supply. But these deprivations pale into insignificance compared with the elephant in the room. I’m talking about the supply of medicines.  It’s one thing telling customers that they can’t buy Parma ham or Roquefort, quite another explaining that they cannot have their drugs.

I have a chronic illness, well two actually, which mean that I have to take drugs for the rest of my life. I take eight different medications seven times a day in different combinations. Fourteen tablets, capsules or patches a day. Every day. That’s 5110 doses per year. And I do not take these in order to feel a bit better or make my condition(s) more comfortable. I take them to stay alive. Without these medications, I would be unable to walk, talk, eat or take care of myself. Without these medications, my life expectancy would be a matter of months. And pretty unpleasant months at that.

I’m not alone in needing my medications. The UK has around 150,000 people with Parkinson’s. But look further – think of insulin-dependent diabetics, people with epilepsy, those with chronic pain or undergoing chemotherapy. There are more than 300,000 type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetics in the UK. 600,000 have epilepsy. These are not people whose quality of life is improved by medicine. These are people whose lives depend on medicines. It is not a “nice to have” but an absolute prerequisite. Without drugs, lives are in danger.

Do I have cause for concern? Yes, I think I do. The UK, you may be surprised to hear, does not produce much in the way of medicines. We are a net importer. From Europe in particular. Around 90% of the drugs used in the UK are imported, 45% from the EU [1]. UK imports of pharmaceutical products from the EU were worth around 26 billion US dollars in 2017 [2]. So if you think a hard Brexit is bad news for supermarkets, imagine what it’s going to do for healthcare.

The NHS is, I understand, making efforts to stockpile key medicines at the moment. That is at least a start. Let’s hope that we can at least buy ourselves time. Because we won’t be able to buy anything else. I truly hope I am wrong. I want to believe that this can still be resolved. I want to believe that post Brexit Britain is at least somewhere safe to live. I don’t expect a cornucopia of new foods and better drugs. But I do hope at least for survival.

[1]        Brexit could hinder medicines supply to UK, MPs told https://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/news-and-analysis/news/brexit-could-hinder-medicines-supply-to-uk-mps-told/20204082.article?firstPass=false

[2]        Value of pharmaceutical products imported into the United Kingdom (UK) from the 27 nations of the European Union (EU-27) from 2012 to 2017 (in million U.S. dollars) https://www.statista.com/statistics/497337/united-kingdom-uk-import-value-pharmaceutical-products-from-the-european-union/

 

What if…?