Feature: No-deal Brexit may disrupt insulin supply with disastrous consequences
“The major concern is uncertainty of supply… But there is no insulin produced in the UK commercially. The insulin both my children use comes from Denmark, so we do rely on stuff getting here on time,” Shedden told Xinhua, while monitoring the insulin and blood sugar levels of his kids on a mobile phone.
“I know the company has made plans to stockpile and make sure that it has a large buffer stock — but insulin is not timeless (has an expiration date). It needs special storage conditions and it needs an awful lot of management. It can’t be stuck in any old warehouse, it has to be in the right environment,” he said.
“So, any delay to that, or any spoilage, could mean that we’re getting short, and without insulin they will die,” he said.
BREXIT IMPACT ON DIABETICS A CONCERN
UK-based diabetes charities, doctors and diabetics have raised concern that Brexit may largely impact the country’s insulin supply — with catastrophic consequences.
With barely a month until the UK is set to leave the European Union (EU), and no clear trade deal in sight, experts have warned that even a small delay in the supply chain of insulin could have a disastrous effect on diabetic patients reliant on the medicine.
“There are very few medicines that are literally where your life depends on it. That’s the situation with insulin,” Dr. Laurence Gerlis of Same Day Doctor, a UK-based medical service, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
“For someone who is an insulin dependent diabetic, one day without insulin means that their blood sugars will rise: they’ll go into ketoacidosis and die,” he said.
Gerlis, who was the former medical director of pharmaceutical company Novo (now Novo Nordisk), has been involved with insulin for most of his working career.
The UK does not manufacture its own insulin, and relies wholly on imports, predominantly from the EU. Experts fear that if trade talks and border control agreements are disrupted due to Brexit, it could have a major effect on how insulin enters the country.
“There are somewhere between half a million and a million people in the UK who require insulin — that’s a lot of insulin. Wholesalers can’t hold large stocks, because the product has a limited shelf life,” Gerlis explained.
“Stocks will run out if we don’t get supply regularly. It’s a bit like the ‘just-in-time’ car manufacturing situation — if we don’t get a continuous supply of insulin, within about a month patients will start to suffer, and I can foresee a situation where people are phoning up hospitals and saying ‘I’ve run out of insulin, can you lend me some?'”
“We’ll be scrabbling around and managing for another month or two, and then things will become critical. It will happen quite quickly if there were a no-deal Brexit on March 29, then certainly by the month of May we could be in serious trouble.”
CALL FOR GUARANTEED INSULIN SUPPLY
According to the Insulin Dependent Diabetes Trust, there are around 421,000 people in the UK with type 1 diabetes and around 150,000 people with type 2 diabetes who require insulin to control their condition.
Earlier this month, the House of Lords discussed the subject with Baroness Mandoor admitting she could not “give copper-bottomed guarantees” that those with diabetes would still have access to insulin after March 29, when the UK is set to leave the EU.
“I don’t think people understand the special case that insulin is. I think unless the government and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs make a special case of insulin, in other words, allow it free passage, quite separate from all other medications and fruit and vegetables and German cars — make it a special case — I think we’re going to see serious problems, the wholesalers will run out,” Gerlis told Xinhua.
This exhaustion of stock is a major concern for both pharmaceutical companies and patients. If poorly handled, experts believe that it could create a panic situation where people try to build up buffer stocks, and in turn deplete the national insulin stock.
“Of course, there is going to be panic buying as well. We’ve had directives from the Department of Health, saying: ‘Don’t over-prescribe’,” Gerlis said.
“Clearly, the government sees that as a potential disaster. If everyone over-prescribes, we’re going to run out more quickly, because everybody is panic buying. If there is a no-deal Brexit, then that is exactly what will happen.”
The UK government has advised the National Health Service, suppliers and pharmaceutical companies to order six additional weeks’ worth of medicines in the event that supplies are disrupted by a no-deal Brexit.
However, the diabetes community still remains concerned that the supply of insulin has not been adequately guaranteed.