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Revealed: The vital medicines that may be impossible to get if UK crashes out of Europe

Medication to treat breast cancer, epilepsy, diabetes and heart failure are among drugs that may be affected by a no-deal Brexit, it has been claimed (stock photo)
Medication to treat breast cancer, epilepsy, diabetes and heart failure are among drugs that may be affected by a no-deal Brexit, it has been claimed (stock photo)
Lisa Smyth

By Lisa Smyth

Medication to treat breast cancer, epilepsy, diabetes and heart failure are among drugs that may be affected by a no-deal Brexit, it has been claimed.

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E-Surgery, an online pharmacy, has compiled a list of drugs which could be difficult or even impossible for patients to access in the event of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement.

There are 59 drugs on the list, from over-the-counter medication such as low dose aspirin and co-codamol to tablets that treat and control potentially life-threatening conditions.

According to E-Surgery, at-risk drugs include allopurinol, used to treat high uric acid in patients undergoing chemotherapy; exemestane, which is used to treat breast cancer; type 2 diabetes medication metformin; and olanzapine, an anti-psychotic primarily used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

A range of medications to control high blood pressure also feature on the list, as do a number of treatments to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

E-Surgery also warned there may be problems with the supply of a number of antidepressants, including nortriptyline, sertraline and venlafaxine.

E-Surgery chief executive Dr Oskar Wendowski said the list was based on information provided by pharmaceutical companies that supply medication to pharmacies across the UK.

"We can share with you the following medications which our suppliers have expressed concern about, either because there are worries around future import rights or because the prices are already rising as a result of stockpiling, leading to real concerns over post-Brexit costs and availability," he said.

Dr Wendowski said the price of drugs has risen significantly as the deadline for Brexit approaches.

He revealed that the cost of antibiotic doxycycline has risen by 203%, metformin has increased by 261%, Parkinson's disease treatment co-careldopa has risen by 75% and a medication used to treat glaucoma, brinzolamide, has increased by 198%.

He continued: "These price increases are an indication of a drop in supply of these products and potential shortages."

A spike in prices may also make it more difficult for chronically underfunded community pharmacists, who are already facing a crisis over their ability to pay bills, to purchase drugs to dispense to patients.

Dr Wendowski said the problem was being exacerbated "by people stockpiling medication because of fears of Brexit, causing shortages". He added: "We want to make people aware of the potential of shortages, so that they have alternatives in mind in the unlikely event of shortages.

"Patients should speak to their local pharmacist if they have any concerns as they can assure them about specific medication and alternatives available."

The Department of Health said that while it had implemented extensive procedures to mitigate the effects of a no-deal Brexit, it could not guarantee that medication supplies would not be disrupted.

The latest guidance from officials reads: "Such an absolute guarantee could not be given in normal circumstances, regardless of EU exit. However, we can assure the public that we are working very hard with all stakeholders to plan and mitigate against any such disruptions."

The department also failed to give a guarantee that the supply of radioisotopes used to treat cancer would not be affected.

Unlike many medicines, radioactive isotopes cannot be stockpiled because as soon as they are produced, they begin to decay.

The Department of Health issued guidance on the effects of leaving the EU without an agreement just days after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the contents of the Operation Yellowhammer document. It states that a no-deal Brexit could have a "life-threatening impact" on patients.

In its latest guidance, the Department of Health also failed to give assurances that operations would not be cancelled in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Alliance Party health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw MLA said: "I have been in regular contact with pharmacies and, because of the complexity of supply lines, they are rightly hugely concerned about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.

"The Government clearly does not care about the damage it is already doing in terms of securing the supply of vital medication to the public.

"Proceeding towards leaving the EU in such a way that we have no guarantees over the supply lines of vital drugs and therapies into the UK shows a callous disregard for people's wellbeing.

"To leave with no deal on October 31, or at any other time, is to play with people's lives and livelihoods and no sane administration would even begin to contemplate it."

Sinn Fein spokesman Colm Gildernew MLA said assurances from Whitehall did not address concerns about the potentially "staggering impact of Brexit on health services".

"The department's working assumption is that its counterparts in Whitehall are giving proper consideration to the concerns for health services in the north of Ireland and that they are prepared for the implications of a no-deal Brexit," he said.

"Recent revelations regarding health services within the Yellowhammer document have shown that the London Government is unwilling to listen to its own experts. Therefore, it's very difficult to have any confidence in assurances from Whitehall, let alone rely on them as part of our preparations for Brexit.

"The Department of Health in the north of Ireland has a responsibility to state publicly whether or not it is adequately prepared to continue to deliver current services in the event of a no-deal Brexit by October 31."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We do not recognise this list and its irresponsible publication creates needless concern for patients.

“We are taking all appropriate steps to prepare for Brexit on 31 October, whatever the circumstance, and our plans should help ensure the supply of medicines and medical products remains uninterrupted.

“We have well established procedures to deal with medicine shortages, whatever the cause, and work closely with the NHS and our partners to minimise the impact on patients. There is no evidence that any current supply constraints are related to EU Exit.”

Here is the full list of medications which could be affected by a no-deal Brexit, according to E-Surgery:

  • Acamprosate (Campral) treats alcohol dependence
  • Aciclovir (Acyclovir) treats herpes, simplex virus infections, chickenpox, and shingles
  • Allopurinol prevents gout, specific types of kidney stones and side effects that can occur with chemotherapy
  • Amlodipine treats hypertension and coronary artery disease
  • Baclofen treats spasticity
  • Bendroflumethiazide is used in the management of hypertension
  • Brinzolamide Eye Drops treats ocular hypertension and open-angle glaucoma
  • Calcipotriol ointment treats psoriasis
  • Candesartan treats hypertension and congestive heart failure
  • Cetirizine is an antihistamine
  • Citalopram is an antidepressant
  • Co-careldopa manages the symptoms of Parkinson's disease
  • Co-codamol is a pain relief
  • Cyclizine treats and prevents nausea, vomiting and dizziness due to motion sickness or vertigo
  • Desogestrel (Cerelle) is a birth control pills for women and also treats menopausal symptoms in women
  • Dihydrocodeine is a pain relief
  • Dispersible Aspirin tablets treat pain, fever, or inflammation and is used as a blood thinner
  • Dosulepin (Prothiaden) is used in the treatment of depression
  • Doxycycline is an antibiotic used in the treatment of pneumonia, acne, chlamydia infections, early Lyme disease, cholera and syphilis
  • Esomeprazole (Nexium) reduces stomach acid
  • Exemestane (Aromasin) is used to treat breast cancer
  • Finasteride (Proscar/Propecia) treats an enlarged prostate or scalp hair loss in men. It can also be used to treat excessive hair growth in women and as a part of hormone therapy for transgender women
  • Glimepiride (Amaryl) is an anti-diabetic medication
  • Hydrocortisone is a steroid medicine
  • Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria as well as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and porphyria cutanea tarda
  • Irbesartan is used for the treatment of hypertension
  • Lansoprazole controls the stomach's production of gastric acid
  • Liquid Carbamazepine (Tegretol) treats epilepsy, neuropathic pain, and schizophrenia
  • Lisinopril treats hypertension, heart failure, and is used after heart attacks
  • Lofepramine (Gamanil/Lomont/Tymelyt) treats depression
  • Losartan (Cozaar) treas hypertension, diabetic kidney disease, heart failure, and left ventricular enlargement
  • Meloxicam (Mobic) treats pain and inflammation in rheumatic diseases and osteoarthritis
  • Metformin (Glucophage) is an type 2 diabetes medication
  • Metoclopramide is used to treat and prevent nausea and vomiting. It is also used to treat migraine headaches
  • Metronidazole (Flagyl) treat spelvic inflammatory disease, endocarditis, and bacterial vaginosis
  • Naproxen (Aleve/Naprosyn) treats pain, menstrual cramps, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and fever
  • Nebivolol treats hypertension
  • Nifedipine (Adalat) is used to manage angina, hypertension, Raynaud's phenomenon, and premature labour
  • Nortriptyline (Allegron/Aventyl/Noritren/Nortrilen/Pamelor) treats clinical depression and childhood bed wetting
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa) treats schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
  • Olmesartan treats hypertension
  • Omeprazole treats gastroesophageal reflux, peptic ulcer disease, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
  • Oxybutynin relieves urinary and bladder difficulties
  • Prednisolone is a steroid medication
  • Pregabalin (Lyrica) treats epilepsy, neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, and generalized anxiety disorder
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel) treats schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder
  • Rasagiline treats symptoms in early Parkinson's disease or as an adjunct therapy in more advanced cases
  • Ramipril is used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure
  • Risperidone (Risperdal) is an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability associated with autism
  • Ropinirole is used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and restless legs syndrome
  • Sertraline (Zoloft) treats major depressive disorder
  • Sildenafil (Viagra) is used to treat erectile dysfunction and pulmonary arterial hypertension
  • Sodium valproate (or valproate sodium)is used in the treatment of epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, panic attack, anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, migraine and bipolar disorder
  • Sotalol treats abnormal heart rhythms
  • Tamsulosin (Flomax) helps with the passage of kidney stones
  • Telmisartan is used in the management of hypertension
  • Tibolone is used for menopausal hormone therapy and in the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis and endometriosis
  • Valsartan treats high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and to increase the chances of living longer after a heart attack
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor) is an antidepressant medication

  • Zopiclone treats insomnia

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