HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 19 March 2021

Media Summary

EU threat to vaccine exports exposes mutual risks to global supply chain
Financial Times, FT Reporters, 18 March

The Financial Times reports that the EU’s threat to restrict the export of COVID-19 vaccines has exposed the mutual harm that countries could inflict on one another due to the interdependent nature of the global vaccine supply chain.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, said on Wednesday that Brussels was considering “all options” to ensure Europeans were vaccinated as soon as possible. Her plans, which are likely to be discussed at an EU summit next week, could stop vaccine shipments to countries that did not show “reciprocity” to the EU by allowing supplies to reach the bloc.

Coronavirus vaccine supply chains are intrinsically global. US biotech Moderna produces vaccine ingredients in Switzerland, fills and finishes the doses in Spain and ships from there to all buyers outside the US. Pfizer similarly has all of its non-US production situated inside the bloc. EU facilities are understood to be dependent on imports for their vaccine production, including the lipid nanoparticles needed in mRNA vaccines and the plastic bags used in bioreactors.

For this reason, Jacob Kirkegaard, Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the German Marshall Fund, says that protectionist measures would cause significant damage. The EU would be “taking a sledgehammer to something brittle”, risking retaliation and reputational damage for minimal gain, he added. “It’s an altogether bad political idea — and it fails to give Europe a material amount of extra vaccines now.”

Retesting 1.7m vaccines and Indian delay blamed for UK shortage
Financial Times, George Parker, Sarah Neville, Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe & Stephanie Findlay, 18 March

The Financial Times reports that Britain’s vaccine rollout has been knocked off course by the delayed arrival of vaccines from India and a need to check 1.7m doses to ensure their stability. At least 12m people will still receive a second COVID-19 vaccine dose in April but supply will be “tighter than this month” according to Matt Hancock

The Health Secretary confirmed in the House of Commons that there had been a delay to the “scheduled arrival from the Serum Institute of India” of Indian-made doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The need to retest a batch of 1.7m doses would also constrain supplies, Hancock said, without providing further detail on the provenance of those vaccines or why they have to be checked. The need for such additional testing was “to be expected” from time to time and showed the “rigour” of UK vaccine safety processes, he added.

Hancock also warned the EU not to impose emergency controls on exports of vaccines — including the Belgium-made Pfizer jab — to Britain. “We fully expect those contracts to be honoured,” he said.

Moderna COVID vaccine expected to arrive in the UK in April, company says
The i, Paul Gallagher, 18 March

The i reports that Moderna is expected to start delivering its order of 17 million COVID vaccine doses to the UK in April, although it is unclear whether their arrival could solve the problem of the expected shortfall of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs next month.

The Government signed a deal with the US company last year and said at the time that it expected delivery to arrive in the Spring. Problems over the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine led scientists to question why officials had yet to name a time when the Moderna doses would arrive, but the US company has said they will be sent from next month. A spokesman said: “Moderna expect to begin deliveries to the UK in April, within the spring delivery window previously communicated. Moderna is on track to meet quarterly contractual commitments.”

The UK Government signed a deal with Moderna for an initial 5 million doses before ordering another 2 million doses in November. It then ordered a further 10 million doses in January. Final clinical results found that the vaccine’s efficacy against COVID-19 was 94.1% and the vaccine’s efficacy against severe COVID-19 was 100%.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

House of Commons – Written Question, 17 March

Julian Sturdy (Conservative, York Outer): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if his Department will make an assessment of the potential merits of writing off the repayment of advance funding extended to community pharmacy in 2020 to maintain services during the COVID-19 outbreak.

House of Commons – Written Question, 17 March

Julian Sturdy (Conservative, York Outer): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment his Department has made of whether the performance of community pharmacy during the COVID-19 outbreak necessitates the creation of a new national pharmacy contract.

House of Commons – Written Question, 17 March

Julian Sturdy (Conservative, York Outer): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of current funding arrangements for community pharmacy.

House of Commons – Written Question, 17 March

Alex Norris (Labour, Nottingham North): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on the cashflows of community pharmacies; what estimate he has made if the number of community pharmacies that (a) have closed in each of the last three financial years and (b) will close in the financial year 2021-22; and if he will make a statement.

Full Coverage

EU threat to vaccine exports exposes mutual risks to global supply chain
Financial Times, FT Reporters, 18 March

This article is subject to copyright terms and conditions. Please access here.

Retesting 1.7m vaccines and Indian delay blamed for UK shortage
Financial Times, George Parker, Sarah Neville, Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe & Stephanie Findlay, 18 March

This article is subject to copyright terms and conditions. Please access here.

Moderna Covid vaccine expected to arrive in the UK in April, company says
The i, Paul Gallagher, 18 March

Moderna is expected to start delivering its order of 17 million Covid vaccine doses to the UK in April although it is unclear whether their arrival could solve the problem of the expected shortfall of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs next month.

The Government signed a deal with the US company last year and said at the time that it expected delivery to arrive in the Spring. Problems over the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine led scientists to question why officials had yet to name a time when the Moderna doses would arrive, but the US company has said they will be sent next from month. A spokesman said: “Moderna expect to begin deliveries to the UK in April, within the spring delivery window previously communicated. Moderna is on track to meet quarterly contractual commitments.”

Problems with a shipment of the AstraZeneca jab from India has impacted that supply chain with 5 million doses said to be delayed as a result, meaning people in their 40s are likely to have to wait until May to get their Covid-19 vaccine.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said news of constraints in supply was “disappointing” and “a bit of a setback”, and the focus in April in England will be on giving second doses to people who were vaccinated earlier in the year.

“The impact of this shortage of supplies will happen on the group that we were hoping to start on in April, which is the people under the age of 50 without any pre-existing conditions, who are now going to have to wait until May,” he told the BBC.

Scientists said issues over the AstraZeneca vaccine supply has made it all the more urgent that the Moderna vaccine will arrive on time.

Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology at Warwick Medical School, said: “Vaccine supply was always going to be challenging – particularly at the current rates of daily vaccinations. This highlights the difficulties in manufacturing these complex vaccines along with need for stringent quality control. We are also limited by having just two approved vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford) currently in use.

“Millions of doses of the Moderna vaccine, which was approved for use by the UK Medicines regulator (MHRA) in January, were secured for delivery in the spring – where are they? We have also secured 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine which is currently awaiting regulatory approval.

“We are in a very precarious situation with a significant proportion of the adult population unvaccinated (approximately 21 million in the 18-49 age group) and the continued threat of more transmissible virus variants popping up in different parts of the country. This could mean that we need to revisit the timetable for easing out of lockdown.”

The UK Government signed a deal with Moderna for an initial 5 million doses before ordering another 2 million doses in November. It then ordered a further 10 million doses in January. Final clinical results found the vaccine to be 94.1 per cent effective.

Media Summary

COVID vaccine: India shortfall behind UK’s supply delay
BBC News, Editorial Team, 18 March

BBC News reports that an expected reduction in the UK’s COVID vaccine supply next month is due to a delay in the delivery of five million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses from India.

The shipment, produced by the Serum Institute of India, has been held up by four weeks. The Serum Institute is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines and is making one billion doses of the AstraZeneca jab this year. Earlier this month, it agreed to supply 10 million doses for the UK, but only half of these will arrive this month with the rest delayed for several weeks. The rest of the UK’s AstraZeneca doses are being produced domestically and the company says there are no supply issues with these doses.

A spokesperson for the Serum Institute said: “Five million doses had been delivered a few weeks ago to the UK and we will try to supply more later, based on the current situation and the requirement for the government immunisation programme in India.” Meanwhile, NHS England warned of a reduction in supply in April in a letter to local health organisations on Wednesday, although the Department of Health insists it is still on track to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July.

Dominic Cummings calls for ‘very hard look’ at handling of COVID crisis
The Guardian, Ian Sample & Jessica Elgot, 17 March

The Guardian reports that Boris Johnson’s former Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings has called for an investigation into the government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Cummings told MPs there was a need for “a very, very hard look” at what went wrong and why, adding that problems at the DHSC had prompted him, along with Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, to argue for a separate taskforce to procure vaccines for the UK.

Shortages of PPE such as masks, visors and gowns in Spring 2020 forced the Government to order in supplies at inflated prices, with some items being found to be defective once they arrived. Cummings said the Government’s procurement system was an “expensive disaster zone” before last year and it “completely fell over” when the pandemic struck.

“In Spring 2020 you had a situation where the Department of Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE and all of that. You had serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics. We also had the EU proposal which looked like an absolute guaranteed programme to fail – a debacle,” he said. “Therefore Patrick Vallance, the Cabinet Secretary, me and some others said: ‘Obviously we should take this out of the Department of Health, we should create a separate taskforce and we have to empower that taskforce directly with the authority of the Prime Minister.”

This story was also reported in Health Service JournalThe Telegraph and The Independent.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

COVID-19 vaccination deployment next steps on uptake and supply
Written Letter, Emily Lawson, NHS Chief Commercial Officer & Dr Nikita Kanani, Medical Director for Primary Care, 17 March

In a letter published Wednesday, NHS England said they had been notified by the Vaccines Task Force that there would be a significant reduction in weekly supply available from manufacturers beginning week commencing 29 March.

The letter states that the reduction will continue for a four-week period. NHS England emphasised the importance to focus efforts on reaching as many people in cohorts 1-9 and said inviting patients outside of cohorts 1-9 is “only permissible in exceptional circumstances”. They added that vaccination centres and community pharmacy-led vaccination services should close unfilled bookings from the week commencing 29 March and ensure no further appointments are uploaded from 1 to 30 April.

The Government have reassured that they are still on track to meet their 15 April (To vaccinate all adults aged 50 and over with a first dose) and end of July (All UK adults to be offered first dose) deadlines.

You can read the letter here.

Further funding for community pharmacies’ response to COVID-19
Written Statement, Vaughan Gething, Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, 16 March

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething has announced that a further £3.5m will be provided to Welsh community pharmacy contractors. In total, this means an additional £9.1m will have been allocated this financial year in recognition of the vital role pharmacies played during the height of the pandemic.

In a statement, the Welsh Health Minister highlighted that he has also enacted a deferment of further repayments against the £55m advanced payment until the 2021-22 financial year in order to support the cash flow situation for community pharmacies.

You can read the statement in full here.

Full Coverage

COVID vaccine: India shortfall behind UK’s supply delay
BBC News, Editorial Team, 18 March

An expected reduction in the UK’s Covid vaccine supply next month is due to a delay in the delivery of five million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses from India.

The shipment, produced by the Serum Institute of India, has been held up by four weeks, the BBC has been told.

NHS England warned of a reduction in supply in April in a letter to local health organisations on Wednesday.

The Department of Health insists it is still on track to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July.

A spokesperson for the Serum Institute said: “Five million doses had been delivered a few weeks ago to the UK and we will try to supply more later, based on the current situation and the requirement for the government immunisation programme in India.”

A source told the BBC that although the original aim had been to deliver the next five million in March, there was not a stipulated time for the delivery of the doses.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the UK had less supply of the vaccine “than we might have hoped for in the coming weeks but we expect it to increase again through the course of April”.

He told BBC Breakfast the vaccine rollout would be “slightly slower than we might have hoped but not slower than the target we had set ourselves” of offering a first dose to all people aged over 50 by 15 April, and all adults by the end of July.

He said that anyone who had an appointment for a second jab “should have complete confidence” that they will go ahead.

“The month of April will be different – and it was always going to be – because I think this will be the month that second jabs exceed first jabs,” he added.

More than 25 million people in the UK have had a first dose of a Covid vaccine, while around 1.7 million have had a second jab.

After opening up appointments to all over-50s on Wednesday, the NHS in England was then told not to offer jabs to younger age groups throughout April.

Prof Adam Finn, a member of the government’s Joint Committee for Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI), said the disruption to supply meant the UK’s rollout would be going from “extremely fast to somewhat less fast”, rather than “juddering to a halt”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the supply issues could have an impact on infection rates but should not have an impact on hospital admissions, as those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 were being prioritised for the jab.

The Serum Institute is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines and is making one billion doses of the AstraZeneca jab this year for low and middle income countries.

Earlier this month, it agreed to supply 10 million doses for the UK, but only half of these will arrive this month with the rest delayed for several weeks.

These supplies were always part of the contract and the UK is not taking vaccines away from supplies for lower-income countries.

All the rest of the UK’s AstraZeneca doses are being produced domestically and the company says there are no supply issues.

Pfizer, which produces its vaccine in Belgium, says its deliveries to the NHS are also on track.

Although, on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said if Covid vaccine supplies in Europe do not improve, the EU “will reflect whether exports to countries who have higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate”.

We were always warned supply was fragile – and these developments are a reminder of that.

The UK has its own plants that are supplying one to two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine each week.

There are also stocks coming from Pfizer’s Belgium plant – these would be the ones that would be susceptible to any restrictions on exports the EU is threatening.

The Indian supplies were supposed to give the UK the “bumper” end to March, allowing the government to push ahead with vaccination of the under-50s within weeks.

This has now been put on hold, given significant numbers will need their second doses from the start of next month.

The government is still on track to hit its target to offer all adults a vaccine by the end of July – and therefore this development does not affect the lifting of restrictions.

By late Spring the first doses of Moderna – the third vaccine to have been approved in the UK – should start arriving.

But the delay to the second shipment from India means rollout is going to take a little longer than was hoped at the start of this week.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to give a statement to MPs in the Commons later on Thursday.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth tweeted that people “across the country” would be “anxious and worried” about news of delays.

Labour is also backing a call from bereaved families for a public inquiry into the handling of the Covid pandemic, saying it should take place once the end of the government roadmap for leaving lockdown restrictions is reached.

Boris Johnson has previously promised an “independent inquiry” into the pandemic.

In addition, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is due on Thursday to release the findings of an investigation into cases of blood clots in a handful of Oxford-AstraZeneca jab recipients.

Several European countries have paused the use of the vaccine but the regulator has said there was “no indication” it caused the clots.

The World Health Organization has urged countries not to halt vaccinations.

A further 141 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive test, according to figures updated on Wednesday from the UK government. A further 5,758 people have tested positive.

Dominic Cummings calls for ‘very hard look’ at handling of COVID crisis
The Guardian, Ian Sample and Jessica Elgot, 17 March

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings has called for an investigation into the government’s handling of coronavirus and described the Department of Health and Social Care as a “smoking ruin” when the crisis struck.

Cummings told MPs there was a need for “a very, very hard look” at what went wrong and why, adding that problems at the DHSC had prompted him, along with Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, to argue for a separate taskforce to procure vaccines for the UK.

“It is not coincidental that we had to take it out of the Department of Health. We had to have it authorised very directly by the prime minister,” Cummings told the Commons science and technology committee.

“In spring 2020 you had a situation where the Department of Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE and all of that. You had serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics. We also had the EU proposal which looked like an absolute guaranteed programme to fail – a debacle,” he said.

“Therefore Patrick Vallance, the cabinet secretary, me and some others said: ‘Obviously we should take this out of the Department of Health, obviously we should create a separate taskforce and obviously we have to empower that taskforce directly with the authority of the prime minister.”

The remarks will be an embarrassment for the health secretary, Matt Hancock, and may be seen in Westminster as an attempt to assign credit to No 10 for the successful vaccine programme while leaving Hancock bearing the brunt of the responsibility for problems with procurement of personal protective equipment.

At a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Hancock sought to dismiss Cummings’ attacks on his department, saying the vaccine rollout had “been a huge team effort” and involved both the government and the vaccines taskforce it set up, as well as the NHS which he said had “led the way in terms of the delivery” of jabs.

He added: “One of the striking things about being involved in the vaccine rollout is that the spirit is a positive, mission-driven can-do spirit that we all share.”

A number of influential figures have told the Guardian they support a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.

Shortages of PPE such as masks, visors and gowns in spring 2020 forced the government to order in supplies at inflated prices, with some items being found to be useless once they arrived.

Cummings said the government’s procurement system was an “expensive disaster zone” before last year and it “completely fell over” when the pandemic struck.

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said it was a “scathing intervention” from the man who had been Johnson’s most trusted aide. “To describe the Department of Health and Social Care as a ‘smoking ruin’ is a clear admission of fundamental mistakes that have contributed to us tragically experiencing one of the highest death rates in the world,” he said.

Downing Street said: “Covid challenged health systems around the world. From the outset, it was always our focus to protect the NHS and save lives. We have procured over 9 million items of PPE, we have established the NHS test and trace system, which has contacted millions of people and asked them to isolate. [The health department] and the NHS were central to the rollout of the vaccination programme.”

Cummings appeared before the committee to explain the rationale behind the proposed Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria), a radical new funding agency that would back high-risk, high-return projects that have the potential to transform society.

Asked about the genesis of the idea, Cummings said its creation was one of the conditions he insisted upon when he was asked by the prime minister to join No 10. The agency is based loosely on the 1960s US Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa).

“The prime minister came to speak to me the Sunday before he became prime minister and said: will I come to Downing Street to help sort out the huge Brexit nightmare?” Cummings said. “I said: ‘Yes, if first of all you are deadly serious about actually getting Brexit done and avoiding a second referendum. Secondly, double the science budget; third, create some Arpa-like entity; and fourth, support me in trying to change how Whitehall works, because it’s a disaster zone.’ And he said: ‘Deal.’”

Cummings said the meeting took place in his living room with just himself and Johnson present.

He denied he had been given a specific pay rise, despite a £45,000 increase being justified on the record by the No 10 spokesperson Allegra Stratton. Cummings claimed he asked for his pay to be cut to match his £100,000 Vote Leave salary – less than the £145,000 usually offered to someone in his role. He said it went up to the usual salary expected in his role after the 2019 election.

Cummings said he did not regret his departure at the end of last year and said he had always planned to quit around that time. “I think I made the right decision to resign when I did. I actually said to the prime minister back in July that I would leave by Friday 18 December at the latest, so the whole thing was not exactly as it appeared,” Cummings said.

During the session, the former Vote Leave campaigner criticised the EU over its handling of vaccines and said the past year had demonstrated the importance of not having the EU set science and technology regulations in the UK.

“As things have been proved every day now, science can cooperate globally without having to be part of the nightmarish Brussels system which has blown up so disastrously over vaccines,” he said. “Just this week we’ve seen what happens when you have an anti-science, anti-entrepreneurial, anti-technology culture in Brussels married with its appalling bureaucracy in its insane decisions and warnings on the AstraZeneca vaccine. I think we are extremely well out of that system.”

Asked about the recent threat of budget cuts to UK science funding, Cummings said that when he left Downing Street in November, “the numbers pencilled in” for UK Research and Innovation were “very generous improvements to its core budgets, not just for this year but throughout the whole spending review period, through to 2025.”

“If that’s changed in the last 12 weeks then that’s obviously bad,” he added. “If 2020 isn’t enough of a galvanising shock to say we ought to take science and technology seriously – both funded properly and embedded in government decision-making intelligently and strip out the bureaucracy that causes so much harm – then I don’t know what would be.”

Last week the UKRI, which oversees science funding in Britain, told universities that its budget for international development projects had been nearly halved, from £245m to £125m. The move means hundreds of research projects on problems ranging from antimicrobial resistance to the climate crisis will have to be shelved or cut back.

Media Summary

COVID: The inside story of the Government’s battle against the virus
BBC News, Laura Kuenssberg, 15 March

In a long-read piece, BBC News reports on the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, covering developments including the early onset of the disease in March 2020, the various lockdown measures implemented, and the vaccine procurement process.

In preparation for the piece, reporter Laura Kuenssberg interviewed 20 senior politicians and officials, who either witnessed or were involved in the big decisions, gathering a clearer picture of the crisis.

The piece highlights both areas of criticism, such as PPE procurement and other early logistical challenges, as well as areas of success, such as the early investment in vaccine planning.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

List of approved countries for authorised human medicines (Updated)
Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, 16 March

Innovation Minister Lord Bethell announced today that the Government is introducing a two-year notice period of any changes to the current position of continued recognition of EU batch testing, which will be reviewed before 31 December 2022.

Recognising the critical role the healthcare sector has and continues to play in the response to COVID-19, the Government hopes that this change will allow the sector to continue to focus on the pandemic, and to protect the supply of medicines to UK patients. This comes after concerns were reportedly raised about moving facilities to the UK by 2023.

The Government has also committed to conducting a comprehensive review of the future batch testing strategy for the UK, to create the opportunity to develop an innovative strategy that supports the UK’s thriving life sciences sector. Read more here.

You can read the batch testing and importation of medicines guidance here.

UK government announces partnership with British rapid test manufacturers
Department of Health and Social Care, 15 March

Two British companies have secured contracts with the Government to supply rapid lateral flow tests, which will help prevent the virus from spreading, keep healthcare staff safe, and make sure businesses can reopen.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has agreed contracts with Omega Diagnostics, headquartered in Alva in Scotland, and Global Access Diagnostics, based in Thurleigh.

The contracts will provide manufacturing capacity for up to 200 million COVID-19 lateral flow antigen tests, which detect positive cases quickly – in under 30 minutes – meaning positive cases can isolate immediately, breaking chains of transmission.

Omega and Global Access Diagnostics will have the capacity to produce approximately 2 million tests per week each by the end of May, helping scale up the Government’s rapid lateral flow testing programme across the country.

You can read the full announcement here.

House of Commons – Written Question, 15 March

Alexander Stafford (Conservative, Rother Valley): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what steps he has taken to ensure that housebound patients can access a free community pharmacy medicines delivery service once the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have ended.

House of Commons – Written Question, 15 March

Olivia Blake (Labour, Sheffield Hallam): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of the request for the repayment of the £370 million allocated to community pharmacies during the COVID-19 outbreak on the future financial sustainability of that sector.

House of Commons – Written Question, 15 March

Emma Hardy (Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment he has made of the financial position of community pharmacies; and what assessment he has made of the potential merits of converting the £370 million of COVID-19 emergency cashflow loans into grants.

House of Commons – Written Answer, 12 March

Cat Smith (Labour, Lancaster and Fleetwood): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what fiscal steps he is taking to support community pharmacies.

Steve Barclay (Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire): We recognise the vital role community pharmacies have played throughout the pandemic, and have put in place a comprehensive package of support:

  • We have provided extra funding for Bank Holiday openings, a new medicines delivery service for shielded patients and a contribution to social distancing for every pharmacy.
  • Between April and July 2020, a total of £370 million in increased advance payments were made to support community pharmacies with cash-flow pressures due to COVID-19.
  • Most community pharmacies have been able to access general COVID-19 business support, including business rate relief and Retail, Leisure, Hospitality grants – we estimate community pharmacies have had access to some £82 million in grants.
  • We provide personal protective equipment (PPE) free of charge and reimburse community pharmacies for PPE purchased.
  • The Government has put forward firm proposals for additional funding to meet extra costs incurred by pharmacies during the pandemic, which are under active discussion with the PSNC.

We have also provided non-monetary support such as the removal of some administrative tasks, flexibility in opening hours, support through the Pharmacy Quality Scheme for the sector’s response to COVID-19 and the delayed start of new services.

Full Coverage

COVID: The inside story of the Government’s battle against the virus
BBC News, Laura Kuenssberg, 15 March

At the beginning of March 2020, I asked a senior member of the government: “Do you feel worried?” They replied: “Personally? No.” But just weeks later, Downing Street was scrambling to manage the biggest crisis since World War Two.

Since then, monumental decisions have had to be taken. And there have been many accusations of failings – the desperate shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID ripping through unprepared care homes, hundreds of billions borrowed and spent to keep the economy going, to name a few.

I have asked 20 of the most senior politicians, officials and former officials, who either witnessed or were involved in the big decisions, to pick five pivotal moments from the past 12 months.

What they say tells us so much about what really happened, what our leaders were thinking, and, strikingly, how little they knew. The contributors are not being named, so they could speak freely.

The virus on our doorstep

On 31 January, it was reported that coronavirus had arrived in the UK, as two people were admitted to hospital. Meanwhile, more than 80 Britons evacuated from China were quarantined at a facility in the north-west of England. But for the government, Brexit had sucked up all the political energy – it was the day the country officially left the EU.

The prime minister and his team were exhausted but elated. It felt like Boris Johnson had “just really started to take flight”, one member of the team tells me.

Ministers and officials had already been meeting to discuss the virus in China – but it felt thousands of miles away. There was a “lack of concern and energy,” one source tells me. “The general view was it is just hysteria. It was just like a flu.”

The prime minister was even heard to say: “The best thing would be to ignore it.” And he repeatedly warned, several sources tell me, that an overreaction could do more harm than good.

A small group in Downing Street had started daily meetings, after, according to one of those who attended, “it became clear that there was no proper, ‘Emergency break-the-glass’ plan.”

But for many of those I’ve spoken to, the game-changer was at the end of February, when the virus took hold in northern Italy – it was closer to home, and England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, had, one minister told me, warned that if it got out of China, it would become global, and be on its way to the UK.

“The biggest moment for me was when I saw those pictures of northern Italy,” one senior minister says. “I thought that will be us if we don’t move.”

Reports of the chaos there catapulted the virus, one senior minister says, “from not on the radar, to people on the floor of hospitals in Lombardy.” They say that was the moment “we knew that it was inevitable”.

Ministers and officials became locked in arguments over how to respond. The prime minister and many cabinet ministers were reluctant to consider anything as draconian as a lockdown. To many people, the very idea would have seemed fanciful.

Even stopping shaking hands seemed a step too far for the prime minister.

Before the first major coronavirus briefing on 3 March, he had, I am told, been prepared by aides to say, if asked by journalists, people should stop shaking hands with each other – as per government scientific advice.

But he said the exact opposite. “I’ve shaken hands with everybody,” he said, about visiting a hospital with COVID patients.

And it was not just a slip, one of those present at the briefing says. It demonstrated “the whole conflict for him – and his lack of understanding of the severity of what was coming”.

A Downing Street spokesperson told the BBC: “The prime minister was very clear at the time he was taking a number of precautionary steps, including frequently washing his hands. Once the social distancing advice changed, the prime minister’s approach changed.”

By this point, Mr Johnson was attending emergency committee Cobra meetings with officials and leaders from Holyrood, Belfast and Cardiff – although he had missed the first few.

But one senior politician who attended at the same time says: “The early meetings with the prime minister were dreadful.” And inside Downing Street, senior staff’s concerns about the government’s ability to cope grew.

There were huge logistical considerations about equipment, facilities and how fast the disease might move in the UK, and questions about how effective the actions taken in China to suppress the virus would be here. It was not well understood, for example, that people without symptoms could still pass it on, nor that Britons returning from half-term holidays in northern Europe were bringing the virus back home in large numbers.

“There was a genuine argument in government, which everyone has subsequently denied,” one senior figure tells me, about whether there should be a hard lockdown or a plan to protect only the most vulnerable, and even encourage what was described to me at that time as “some degree of herd immunity”.

There was even talk of “chicken pox parties”, where healthy people might be encouraged to gather to spread the disease. And while that was not considered a policy proposal, real consideration was given to whether suppressing COVID entirely could be counter productive.

On 3 March, when the prime minister set out the government’s plan, the focus was on detecting early cases and preventing the spread.

But on 12 March, with journalists crammed into the state dining room at No 10, he told the public that the country was facing its worst health crisis in a generation. Anyone with symptoms was told to stay at home for a week.

Advisers seemed confident it was not yet time to close schools or stop large crowds gathering. And the government’s scientists felt they had time to slow everything down – the peak was not expected for another 10-14 weeks.

That same week, though, nervousness was rising among others in government that the virus was outpacing everyone’s expectations, and the plans in place to smooth out the outbreak would not work.

One source tells me it felt like the “government machine was breaking in our hands”, things were “imploding”, and within 48 hours the approach outlined on the 12th would feel out of date.

There has been no shortage of controversy over whether the government was too slow to close the doors on 23 March – but many of the conversations I have had, pinpoint the moment it became urgent in No 10.

On 13 March, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) committee concluded the virus was spreading faster than thought.

But it was Downing Street “modellers in the building”, according to one current official, who pored again over the numbers, and realised the timetable that had only just been announced was likely to result in disaster.

The next morning, a small group of key staff got together. Simple graphs were drawn on a whiteboard and the prime minister was confronted with the stark prediction that the plan he had just announced would result in the NHS collapsing under the sheer number of cases.

Several of those present tell me that was the moment Mr Johnson realised the urgency – that the official assumptions about the speed of the spread of this new disease had been wrong.

To prevent the NHS “falling over”, he was warned, the government would have to impose measures as infections rose. And while they could be relaxed as cases fell, this pattern might recur across “multiple waves for 18 months”.

Several sources recall vividly the “snake like graph” they were shown that day.

Then, one official says, everything started to move at “lightning speed”. And behind closed doors – before the terrifying projections of Imperial College became public, a couple of days later – plans were accelerated.

On 16 March, the public were told to stop all unnecessary social contact and to work at home if possible.

New cabinet committees were formed. And the machine moved into a different phase, with the prime minister and the “quad” – Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and Rishi Sunak – the new decision-making form. It was, I am told, “high tension – [with] a lot of testosterone in the room”.

For many inside government, the pace of change that week was staggering – but others remain frustrated the government machine, in their view, had failed to move quickly enough.

There was tension between those who wanted to ensure systems were as ready as they could be first, and others who argued vociferously that moving fast against the virus was more important than anything else.

But those I spoke to now agree on one thing – how much they did not know about the disease.

“You can kick yourself about the things that you wish you knew,” one minister says, “but we just didn’t have anything in place.”

Another cabinet minister says: “It’s easy to say we should have locked down longer, gone harder, but there are more complex debates about where the national interests really lie.”

And it was all so strange.

One minister who made some of the public announcements when lockdown came says: “I remember when I wrote it into the script, I just couldn’t believe that I was saying this.”

And one official, struck by how huge it all felt, says he googled: “Did they shut the schools during the War?”

Another, meanwhile, admits, “We were more blind than we told the public,” and suggests that is still the case one year on.

Boris Johnson out of action

On 18 March, we reported that a small number of members of staff in No 10 had fallen ill. One insider says: “People were dropping like flies.”

The prime minister, however, was acting as though he was impervious to the risk. He had developed a habit of banging his own chest, telling staff he was “strong as a bull”. Soon, though, this chest-banging turned into “extreme coughing fits”. Tests, in short supply everywhere, were requested for him from 25 March. And two days later, he tested positive.

He switched to the chancellor’s bigger suite of offices so that he could keep working, screened off from the rest of the building. Insiders recall how much he hated this and, in a second spell of isolation in the autumn, chairs had to be placed across the door “like a puppy gate”, so he could still communicate with the tiny number of staff allowed into the same part of the building.

Then, at the end of March, the prime minister became increasingly ill – each video call he made to reassure the public required more takes.

On 6 April, he agreed to go to St Thomas’ Hospital and, struggling for breath on a phone call, I have been told, confirmed he wanted Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to stand in for him.

Initially, Downing Street tried to give the impression that all was well. Journalists were even told that Mr Johnson was working on his red boxes. That message has been put down to a mix up, and we now know this was far from the truth.

The moment of genuine crisis came when he was moved into intensive care. No-one knew if the prime minister would make it through the night – or what the plan was if he did not.

By this point, with so many in No 10 and in government already sick, there were, I have been told, about “half a dozen people running things”.

Fears that he might need to be intubated were shared by a tiny group inside Number 10. They discussed the possibility that ministers would have to gather in the cabinet room, with the doors closed, until they chose a successor – but there was no fixed protocol, and no conclusion was reached. The Tory Party, I have been told, even started to consider how to transfer the leadership without a contest, fearing that such a competition could be seen as “venal” after the prime minister’s death.

Then cabinet ministers were summoned urgently for a conference call. “All of a sudden we were asked to join this call – not knowing if he was alive,” one tells me. Then No 10 prepared to make the news public.

The Downing Street voice on the other end of the phone cracked with fear as I was asked to get to the Foreign Office as soon possible with a camera to talk to Mr Raab, who was being sent out to try to reassure the country. We reported the news that Mr Johnson was in intensive care from the back of a taxi.

A former official tells me: “We thought we really could lose him – we had to plan for a full transition.” That night was “long and shocking”, one source says.

By the end of May, the number of coronavirus cases was falling, the prime minister was back at work full time, and the public had surprised the government by overwhelmingly sticking to the rules.

Furthermore, despite some embarrassing and prominent lockdown breaches – in April, for example, Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, had to quit over her visits to her holiday home – there had been what one senior minister describes as “tremendous goodwill”.

But then came the Mirror and the Guardian’s scoop – in March, the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, had travelled hundreds of miles to County Durham, after his wife fell ill with COVID. He, too, succumbed to the virus and his stay on his family’s farm to recover, before returning to London, had been kept secret – apart from among a tiny number of Downing Street staff.

And Mr Cummings was determined not to quit. After considering sacking him, the prime minister stuck by him – but first, there was what has been described to me as tense “mediation between a couple deciding whether to divorce”.

Before making that decision, he had summoned Mr Cummings to go through his version of events. Together, they planned for him to give this version publicly – despite others’ protestations. The result was the surreal press conference in the Downing Street rose garden.

Many of those I have talked to describe this episode as a terrible turning-point.

“Even for us, this is mad,” a member of the Downing Street team tells me.

Senior ministers say: “The handling was a fiasco”. “It was ridiculous”, and, at a time of national emergency, “broke the political consensus”.

Perhaps, after two months of lockdown, the public was ready to be angry with someone.

MPs’ inboxes were swamped with irate emails – mine too. “The early pandemic washed away all the bitterness of Brexit,” one senior minister tells me. “That all came flooding back, all that bile, all that pent up frustration.”

Some ministers tweeted their support for Mr Cummings. One of those who refused says: “He should have resigned straight away. You lead by example. I was busy chopping logs with my chainsaw to get the frustration out.”

Some polling suggests the Barnard Castle episode really did dent the public’s trust in the government. “It gave people who wanted to break the rules an excuse,” one source says.

But inside government, there was a belief that an extraordinary period of unity had already started to fade, and the public had started to tire of the rules once the government had moved towards its plans to lift them.

There is no question, though, the whole misadventure made the politics of the pandemic more scratchy and less consensual.

Mr Cummings was not the only one to be caught up. In June, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, provoked anger by attending a huge Republican funeral.

But it was after Barnard Castle that it felt like the mood in the country had changed.

“People wanted to portray the PM as a clown,” one minister tells me, “or not up to the level of events.”

Summer optimism, missed September

Britain in the summer did not feel like a country still gripped by a pandemic.

“There was loads of over optimistic messaging,” one politician says.

For example, the time when a Labour MP asked for advice at the end of June for his constituency, which was home to a popular beach and he was worried about huge numbers heading for the sea. “Show some guts,” the prime minister told him.

In July, a grinning chancellor delivered plates of Japanese curry to unsuspecting customers at a London restaurant, to promote his “eat out to help out” scheme. Then the prime minister started to encourage people back to the office.

But behind closed doors, there were significant doubts about the wisdom of this new mood. “We knew there was going to be a second wave,” one cabinet minister tells me, “and there was a row about whether people should work from home or not – it was totally ridiculous.”

The summer optimism and opening was “the biggest mistake – a rush of blood to the head, another senior figure says. “The PM has to carry the can”.

The prime minister believed that another lockdown would be a disaster and wanted to avoid it at all costs – but for many of those involved in making the decisions, his hostility to tightening the rules again was frustrating, dangerous and political.

“The policy objective in the summer and the autumn was – do the minimum possible,” one tells me.

But by the end of August, with Britons packing beaches, the warnings of what might come were already flickering in Number 10.

Some days, sources suggest, the prime minister would express concern about the virus coming back. Others, he would be in “let-it-rip mode”. And senior officials expressed deep concern about what seemed to be changes of heart on a daily basis.

The disease would not be contained by indecision, and by the start of September, with schools and universities having returned, “you could clearly see a steady increase,” a senior figure says.

The testing system had not been able to keep pace with demand, and too few people were willing to, or could afford, to self-isolate if they tested positive. “The idea that you could liberalise in the summer was based on the idea that you could whackamole with test and trace,” the source says. “But if you didn’t whack the right moles then it doesn’t work.”

By the middle of September, “the data was already screaming out”, one insider says. On the 17th, I was told by one source: “If you do nothing now, by the end of October you will get something worse than the first wave.”

The possibility of a short “circuit breaker” lockdown was already being discussed in Downing Street that week. Prof Whitty, the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, and Mr Cummings and others were arguing hard for action to be taken – but the prime minister was unpersuaded.

Others wanted to push again – one current official recalls a “concerted effort” – and on Sunday 20th, the No 10 team gathered a range of scientists. But the prime minister remained reluctant.

Another current official describes his attitude as, “if there is a way not to act, why do it?”.

Over the next 36 hours, I have been told, a small group inside Downing Street repeatedly tried to change Mr Johnson’s mind – but by then, he was operating in a very different atmosphere.

“A swampiness had risen because of ideological pressure on this government at every turn to do less – and to do it more slowly,” a senior figure says. And it is understood Mr Johnson had privately assured groups of MPs there would be no more restrictions.

The Treasury was pointing out the damage any further restrictions would do to the economy, many of the traditional Tory-backing newspapers were hungry for restrictions to be relaxed, the party was restless, and I remember cabinet ministers who had hardly any cases of the virus in their constituencies at that point, suggesting they saw no evidence for further action.

So when Mr Johnson made changes to the coronavirus restrictions on 22 September, they were tweaks, rather than a real tightening up. I remember talking to Tory backbenchers that day who felt they had won.

The importance of the missed September moment is cited by many senior figures – and some now concede it was a mistake.

“We strained at the leash to get things going,” one cabinet minister admits. “I was aggressively for that – but I have learned that it is better to go slow.”

Another senior minister, one of those who pushed for more radical action at the time, now says: “We should have locked down more severely, earlier in the autumn – the whole point was, the earlier you act the more you buy yourself time for a strategy that can get out.”

You can still hear the frustration in the voices of those who lost the argument.

“The PM was saying the Tory Party won’t swallow it,” one tells me. “Everyone else felt, we know we are going to have to do a lockdown.”

And there is no question that the tier system that was introduced over the autumn, which portioned England into different levels of restrictions, was soon tied up in confusion and regional spats.

“It was completely unintelligible to any normal human being,” one senior official says. “It was too slow, and too Byzantine, and that resulted in more cases.”

Another says now: “We ended up tying ourselves into ever tighter knots,” as the system became more and more particular to each part of the country.

It is impossible to know what would have happened if the brakes had been slammed on in September – but some ministers pin the terrible scale of the second wave, at least in part, on the apparent reluctance to act.

The circuit-breaker that was imposed later in Wales did not make the problem go away, however. Case numbers weren’t the only concern – the economy had been shuttered, and shattered. Political demands had changed.

In defence of Mr Johnson, one senior minister says: “He’s not to blame if he was trying to reflect the aspiration for the country back in the summer”. Another tells me the plans, and the billions spent on “test-and-trace and tiering meant it was reasonable to do the unlock”.

They reject the idea that a circuit breaker was the obvious option – “There wasn’t a slam dunk recommendation.”

Regarding the potential introduction of national restrictions in September, Downing Street referred us back to comments made by the prime minister to parliament in early November.

“No-one wants to impose measures unless absolutely essential,” Mr Johnson told the Commons. “So it made sense to focus initially on the areas where the disease was surging and not to shut businesses, pubs and restaurants in parts of the country where incidence was low.”

But while there is no question mistakes were made in the first phase of the pandemic, when so much about the virus was a mystery, those involved in the decisions are already less forgiving of their own mistakes the second time around.

The big vaccine gamble

“A miracle,” is how one minister describes the vaccine gamble to me. A government so often lambasted by critics for busting convention did it again – but this time, so far, with a stunning outcome.

Vaccines had been discussed in January, as the government machine began to contemplate, slowly, what might be ahead. Early on the chancellor, holding the cheque book, indicated a willingness to spend at speed, without asking for guarantees.

No 10 decided to “chuck everything at it”, at a meeting in April. With Sir Patrick’s crucial experience and deputy chief medical officer for England Prof Jonathan Van-Tam’s emphasis on the practicalities of delivering the vaccine, politicians were persuaded to take what was then a huge risk.

There was an early decision to “pay high, pay early, and ensure it works,” one senior official tells me.

And it seems their decision was informed by everything that had gone wrong with trying to secure PPE – the collapse of the NHS’s normal procurement process, with Foreign Office officials even trying to hunt down missing consignments on the ground in far-flung places.

The UK decided early not to participate in the EU’s joint plan to buy vaccines. While publicly this decision may have been politically controversial, behind closed doors it was “easy” and “straightforward”, ministers and officials say. “No-one wanted any of the Brexit baggage anywhere near it.” And, more importantly, the EU had made it clear any participating country would be unable to make its own deals with manufacturers the EU had an agreement with – or control its own supply.

The vaccines team had warned ministers at the start of May that nothing was certain – and developing a vaccine as quickly as the prime minister, who “wanted it yesterday”, required would be an uphill struggle. But, as one minister says, it was “the one thing we would wish that we had done in a year’s time”.

Another, a senior minister, says: “The PM strategically saw immediately that the combination of testing, drugs and vaccine was the way out.” And when it came to vaccines, the UK was ready to take an expensive gamble.

The Treasury was spending speculatively in ways it had not since the War – and vaccine spending has already reached nearly £13.5bn. “Imagine if it hadn’t come off and we had spent all of that taxpayers’ money,” one senior official says to me.

There was intense secrecy, throughout, with the various vaccines given secret code names to ensure commercial confidentiality. All were named after submarines – the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine “Ambush”, I can now reveal, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca “Triumph”.

After 12 months of grappling with endless calculations about balancing risks to life, wider health and how the country makes a living, decision-makers are exhausted. They have to accept it is perfectly possible to be wrong, one senior minister tells me. And those who made the decisions are all too aware mistakes they made in these past 12 months may have had such a terrible cost.

Media Summary

UK vaccine rollout scaled up amid supply concerns
Financial Times, Sebastian Payne, Sarah Neville & John Burn-Murdoch, 15 March

The Financial Times reports that the UK will scale up its Coronavirus vaccination programme this week despite continued concerns inside Government about supply issues. Ministers are preparing for a significant increase in vaccination rates over the next three weeks, before a drop-off in April.
On Sunday the Government reported that it had administered 512,108 first dose vaccinations on Saturday – the highest daily tally since February 12. Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said “March will be a very big month for us” and predicted jabs would be delivered at “twice the rate over the next 10 weeks as we have done over the past 10 or 11 weeks.”

However, individuals with knowledge of the programme said that the UK was still encountering “major production challenges” with vaccines from AstraZeneca and Moderna, with only Pfizer on track to meet its schedule after upgrading its main production facility in Belgium. Because of these issues, vaccination levels are expected to dip again in April. Second doses are also expected to become a priority next month, as the NHS is operating on a basis of delivering second jabs 11 weeks after the first.

Amazon’s next high street target: your local chemist
The Times, Sabah Meddings, 14 March

The Times reports that Amazon has signalled plans to break into the pharmacy industry in the UK, having registered the trademark “Amazon Pharmacy” with the Intellectual Property Office.

In America, Amazon’s existing online pharmacy delivery service offers prescription medicines at a discount. Amazon is a direct challenger to the main US players — Walgreens, the owner of Boots, and CVS Health. It offers discounts of up to 80 per cent on generic drugs and 40 per cent on branded medicines. When it announced plans to venture further into pharmacy in November, Walgreens’ shares fell by more than 11 per cent.

It is not known how the model would work in the UK, where the price of prescriptions is regulated. This means Amazon would not be able to compete on price – its advantage would be convenience and speed. Online pharmacy services are already growing in the UK. Pharmacy2U, which uses a subscription model, has about 550,000 customers and posted sales of £78.3 million in the year to the end of last March.

Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said that online dispensaries could not offer the service that community chemists provided. “When someone is diagnosed with a long-term condition such as asthma or diabetes, and is put on new medicines for the first time, the pharmacist can talk to the patient and ensure they are taking them correctly,” she said.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

There was no parliamentary coverage today.

Full Coverage

UK vaccine rollout scaled up amid supply concerns
Financial Times, Sebastian Payne, Sarah Neville & John Burn-Murdoch, 15 March

This article is subject to copyright terms and conditions. You can access the article here.

Amazon’s next high street target: your local chemist
The Times, Sabah Meddings, 14 March

Amazon has signalled plans to break into the pharmacy industry in the UK, having disrupted the $300 billion (£215 billion) prescription drugs market in America.

The tech giant has registered the trademark “Amazon Pharmacy” with the Intellectual Property Office.

In America, Amazon’s online delivery service offers prescription medicines at a discount. It is not known how the model would work in the UK, where the price of prescriptions is regulated.

The prospect of Amazon moving into the sector met with dismay from high street chemists this weekend. In America, Amazon is a direct challenger to the main players — Walgreens, the owner of Boots, and CVS Health. It offers discounts of up to 80 per cent on generic drugs and 40 per cent on branded medicines. When it announced plans to venture further into pharmacy in November, Walgreens’ shares fell by more than 11 per cent.

Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said that online dispensaries could not offer the service that community chemists provided. “When someone is diagnosed with a long-term condition such as asthma or diabetes, and is put on new medicines for the first time, the pharmacist can talk to the patient and ensure they are taking them correctly,” she said.

Online pharmacy services are already growing in the UK. Pharmacy2U, which uses a subscription model, has about 550,000 customers and posted sales of £78.3 million in the year to the end of last March.

Amazon has soared during the pandemic. It reported sales of $125.7 billion for the last three months of 2020, an increase of 44 per cent.

Unlike in America, UK drug prices are regulated, which means Amazon would not be able to compete on price. Its advantage would be convenience and speed. Amazon Prime members in America receive unlimited two-day delivery on pharmacy orders.

Amazon declined to comment.

Media Summary

There was no media coverage today.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Changes to import controls due to be implemented on 1 April and 1 July 2021
Michael Gove, Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, 11 March

The UK’s departure from the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union on 31 December last year created considerable change for business and citizens, including the introduction of new processes and requirements. But with the first changes coming into force on 1 January 2021, the generalised disruption that many anticipated did not affect supply chains to the levels expected.However, the Government has recognised the scale and significance of the challenges businesses have been facing in adjusting to the new requirements, all while dealing with the impacts of COVID. With the disruption caused by COVID lasting longer and being more extensive than anticipated, the Government has reviewed its timetable for the phased introduction of controls on imports from the EU into Great Britain, giving businesses more time to prepare.

In a statement made yesterday, Michael Gove announced a clear revised timetable for the introduction of controls, as follows:

  • Pre-notification requirements for Products of Animal Origin (POAO), certain animal by-products (ABP), and High Risk Food Not Of Animal Origin (HRFNAO) will not be required until 1 October 2021. Export Health Certificate requirements for POAO and certain ABP will come into force on the same date.
  • Customs import declarations will still be required, but the option to use the deferred declaration scheme, including submitting supplementary declarations up to six months after the goods have been imported, has been extended to 1 January 2022.
  • Safety and Security Declarations for imports will not be required until 1 January 2022.
  • Physical SPS checks for POAO, certain ABP, and HRFNAO will not be required until 1 January 2022. At that point they will take place at Border Control Posts.
  • Physical SPS checks on high risk plants will take place at Border Control Posts, rather than at the place of destination as now, from 1 January 2022.
  • Pre-notification requirements and documentary checks, including phytosanitary certificates will be required for low risk plants and plant products, and will be introduced from 1 January 2022.
  • From March 2022, checks at Border Control Posts will take place on live animals and low risk plants and plant products.

Traders moving controlled goods into Great Britain will continue to be ineligible for the deferred customs declaration approach. They will therefore be required to complete a full customs declaration when the goods enter Great Britain.

You can read the full transcript of Michael Gove’s announcement here.

COVID-19: Community Pharmacies
House of Commons Debate, 11 March

Yesterday, Sir Graham Brady chaired a debate on the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on community pharmacies. Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy, introduced the debate by highlighting the huge contribution made by community pharmacists during the pandemic, and the support and recognition expressed by Members of Parliament.

She drew particular attention to the financial impact of the pandemic on community pharmacists, and the consequences on their personal wellbeing, making a plea that the Government and the NHS fully appreciate their contribution and ensure that they be recompensed adequately for it. She also took this opportunity to highlight the larger role that pharmacists can and should play in primary care.

In line with the observations made by Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Peter Dowd MP outlined four actions which he recommended the Government take to address the situation:

  1. Review the response from pharmacies during the pandemic and re-evaluate a clear vision of what is needed from these undervalued and vital frontline healthcare workers;
  2. Enable pharmacists to do more, by providing additional resources for training and support to the sector;
  3. Reassess the value of pharmacies, to be conducted by finance teams in the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS; and
  4. Write off the advance payments as an immediate way of providing relief. Additionally, re-evaluate the financial implications of asking pharmacies to pay back the £370 million advance.

Holly Lynch MP backed the proposals, adding that pharmacies had their budgets cut back in 2016, with a reduction from £2.8 billion in 2015-16 to £2.59 billion in 2017-18. She said that austere financial measures had left many pharmacies ill-prepared for the additional requirements posed by the pandemic, flagging a 20% rise in demand for medicines and a 35% increase in required prescriptions.

Taiwo Owatemi MP went on to highlight the important role that these pharmacists play at the heart of communities, referencing her own background as a qualified pharmacist. She also advocated for a review of the sector’s funding, shedding light on the key link it provides between individuals and the wider NHS, and the vital role it can play in plans to address growing health inequalities.

Bob Seely MP noted that independent pharmacies do not gain the discounts given to big multiples, which are often part of a single wholesale and retail chain, and asked the Minister for Health to ensure that independent pharmacies are paid the same and are allowed to make the same profit margins on prescriptions and other services.

You can read a full transcript of the debate here.

Full Coverage

There was no media coverage today.

Media Summary

UK and EU Vaccine Update – 11 March 2021

Tensions have risen between UK and EU leaders this week after European Council President Mr Michel claimed that: “The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.”

This latest disagreement follows a high-profile fall-out in January, when the EU briefly attempted to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit withdrawal agreement’s protocol to impose controls on the supply of vaccines into Northern Ireland. Brussels swiftly backtracked and apologised after coming in for heavy criticism over the move. UK-EU relations have run into trouble since then over Downing Street’s decision to unilaterally extend the grace period for fully implementing protocol arrangements contained in the Brexit agreement.

The UK is the biggest recipient of reported EU vaccine exports, securing 9.1m doses under the bloc’s authorisation scheme that came into force on January 30. EU controls were put in place after the bloc struggled to secure adequate volumes of vaccines for member states.

 

UK denies vaccine nationalism

The UK Prime Minister has denied the accusations made by Charles Michel that Britain has introduced an “outright ban” on vaccine exports. “Let me be clear: we have not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine components” Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday. Read more in Sky News.

The UK Foreign Office summoned Nicole Mannion, Deputy Ambassador of the EU to the UK and Charge d’affaires at the EU Delegation to the UK, for “further discussions” on the dispute on Wednesday. Read more in the Independent.

EU challenges UK to show vaccine export data

The European Commission has now acknowledged no formal ban is in place, but EU officials noted that Mr Michel was drawing attention to the fact that no vaccines have so far been sent from the UK to the bloc. Mr Michel said on Wednesday that the UK government should disclose data on the number of Coronavirus vaccines Britain ships internationally. Read more in The Express and the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, the EU’s ambassador to the UK denied the bloc is engaging in “vaccine nationalism” but similarly demanded more transparency from Britain as tensions simmer over the export of Coronavirus jabs. “I refute completely the accusation that the EU is protectionist or has engaged in vaccine nationalism,” João Vale de Almeida told British broadcaster ITV’s Robert Peston. The EU has been criticized and at times accused of protectionism over a new vaccine export control mechanism it says is intended to ensure suppliers are fulfilling their contractual obligations. Read more in Politico.

 

Concerns raised over impact of Brexit EU rules on medicines delivery to Northern Ireland

Concerns have been raised about the impact of Brexit on the delivery of medicines at the end of this year. TUV leader Jim Allister sought clarity from Northern Irish Health Minister Robin Swann on the issue and warned it could have serious implications for future vaccine rollout if Northern Ireland is tied to the EU vaccination programme. In response to a written question, Mr Swann said that Northern Ireland was only part of the UK’s vaccine rollout because of a year-long grace period stipulated by the protocol.

Mr Allister said the Health Minister’s response showed that “in simple terms, Northern Ireland is only able to benefit from the UK’s successful vaccine rollout now because of a grace period. But for the grace period, we would be tied to the failed and failing EU policy on vaccination.” Read more in The Irish News.

 

EU set to approve Johnson & Johnson vaccine today

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to get the green light today from the European Medicines Agency. The one-shot jab has already been approved in the United States and has a 66% efficacy rate. However, despite the European Commission securing a minimum of 200 million doses, Johnson & Johnson has not committed to any shipments until the second quarter of the year — meaning at least a three-week lag between the EU’s approval and Johnson & Johnson’s first deliveries. Read more in Politico.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

There was no parliamentary coverage today.

 

Full Coverage

UK and EU Vaccine Update – 11 March 2021

Tensions have risen between UK and EU leaders this week after European Council President Mr Michel claimed that: “The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.”

This latest disagreement follows a high-profile fall-out in January, when the EU briefly attempted to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit withdrawal agreement’s protocol to impose controls on the supply of vaccines into Northern Ireland. Brussels swiftly backtracked and apologised after coming in for heavy criticism over the move. UK-EU relations have run into trouble since then over Downing Street’s decision to unilaterally extend the grace period for fully implementing protocol arrangements contained in the Brexit agreement.

The UK is the biggest recipient of reported EU vaccine exports, securing 9.1m doses under the bloc’s authorisation scheme that came into force on January 30. EU controls were put in place after the bloc struggled to secure adequate volumes of vaccines for member states.

UK denies vaccine nationalism

The UK Prime Minister has denied the accusations made by Charles Michel that Britain has introduced an “outright ban” on vaccine exports. “Let me be clear: we have not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine components” Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday. Read more in Sky News.

The UK Foreign Office summoned Nicole Mannion, Deputy Ambassador of the EU to the UK and Charge d’affaires at the EU Delegation to the UK, for “further discussions” on the dispute on Wednesday. Read more in the Independent.

EU challenges UK to show vaccine export data

The European Commission has now acknowledged no formal ban is in place, but EU officials noted that Mr Michel was drawing attention to the fact that no vaccines have so far been sent from the UK to the bloc. Mr Michel said on Wednesday that the UK government should disclose data on the number of Coronavirus vaccines Britain ships internationally. Read more in The Express and the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, the EU’s ambassador to the UK denied the bloc is engaging in “vaccine nationalism” but similarly demanded more transparency from Britain as tensions simmer over the export of Coronavirus jabs. “I refute completely the accusation that the EU is protectionist or has engaged in vaccine nationalism,” João Vale de Almeida told ITV’s Robert Peston. Read more in Politico.

Concerns raised over impact of Brexit EU rules on medicines delivery to Northern Ireland

Concerns have been raised about the impact of Brexit on the delivery of medicines into Northern Ireland at the end of this year. TUV leader Jim Allister sought clarity from Northern Irish Health Minister Robin Swann on the issue and warned it could have serious implications for future vaccine rollout if Northern Ireland is tied to the EU vaccination programme. In response to a written question, Mr Swann said that Northern Ireland was only part of the UK’s vaccine rollout because of a year-long grace period stipulated by the protocol.

Mr Allister said the Health Minister’s response showed that “in simple terms, Northern Ireland is only able to benefit from the UK’s successful vaccine rollout now because of a grace period. But for the grace period, we would be tied to the failed and failing EU policy on vaccination.” Read more in The Irish News.

EU set to approve Johnson & Johnson vaccine today

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to get the green light today from the European Medicines Agency. The one-shot jab has already been approved in the United States and has a 66% efficacy rate. However, despite the European Commission securing a minimum of 200 million doses, Johnson & Johnson has not committed to any shipments until the second quarter of the year — meaning at least a three-week lag between the EU’s approval and Johnson & Johnson’s first deliveries. Read more in Politico.

Media Summary

COVID-19: UK rejects ‘completely false’ EU vaccine export ban claim
BBC News, Gavin Stamp, 09 March

BBC News reports that a fresh row has broken out between the UK and the EU after the bloc’s most senior official suggested the UK had banned all COVID-19 vaccine exports.

Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, wrongly claimed the UK had an “outright ban” on exports of vaccines produced on its soil. The BBC understands Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has written to him to say the claims are “completely false”.

This is the second time since the start of the year that the UK and EU have disagreed over the issue of the production and distribution of Coronavirus vaccines. In January, the EU introduced a new system of controls on vaccine exports amid concerns over availability of supplies on the continent, requiring producers to seek permission from national governments for planned sales.

The move sparked a wider row with the UK about the functioning of post-Brexit trade arrangements relating to Northern Ireland agreed by the two sides last year.

This news was covered by a number of outlets, including The TelegraphFinancial Times and Politico.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Importing medicines into Northern Ireland before 31 December 2021
Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, 09 March

The MHRA has updated its guidance on ‘Importing medicines into Northern Ireland before 31 December 2021’.

This follows the European Union publication of the EU Commission notice updated on 25 January 2021 on the Application of the Union’s pharmaceutical acquis in markets historically dependent on medicines supply from or through Great Britain after the end of the transition period. The notice places a reporting obligation on industry to notify the MHRA for medicines imported into Northern Ireland.

For products approved in the UK before 31 January 2021, the EU Commission Notice means that, for all UK licenced medicines within a company’s portfolio, companies will seek to make use of these flexibilities unless the MHRA is directly informed otherwise. This will be the basis for MHRA enforcement until 31 December 2021.

For products approved in the UK after 31 January 2021 and before 31 December 2021, the EU Commission Notice means that these flexibilities apply to all new products and you only need to notify the MHRA if you do not plan to make use of the flexibilities. This will be the basis for MHRA enforcement until 31 December 2021.

You can read the guidance in full here.

COVID-19 vaccine supply and manufacturing in the UK
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, 09 March

Yesterday Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, delivered a speech at the Global COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit at Chatham House.

Mr Hancock took this opportunity to detail the success of the UK’s vaccine roll-out, which for him was a result of hard work and diligent planning.

Turning to the global vaccine supply chain, Mr Hancock highlighted the need to broaden access; to remove tariffs where they apply; and to better share data on efficacy and trials. He stressed that this was a global effort, and therefore vaccine protectionism should be opposed.

You can read a full transcript for his speech here.

House of Lords – Written Question, 09 March

Wera Hobhouse (Liberal Democrat, Bath): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what assessment he has made of the adequacy of levels of funding provided to community pharmacy owners during the COVID-19 outbreak.

House of Commons – Written Answer, 09 March

Sarah Owen (Labour, Luton North): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what plans he has to allocate additional funding to community pharmacies to help them cover costs incurred as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jo Churchill (Conservative, Bury St Edmunds): Discussions are ongoing with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee about additional funding for costs incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. As well as the increased advance payments, general COVID-19 business support has been accessible to most community pharmacies, including the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant and business rate relief. Additional payments have been made to support opening hours on Bank Holidays, social distancing and the medicine delivery service to shielded patients. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided free of charge and pharmacies are reimbursed for PPE already purchased. Non-monetary support provided during the pandemic included the removal of some administrative tasks, flexibility in opening hours and the delayed introduction of new services.

Call for Written Evidence: “Post Brexit and Post COVID Reviews and Consultations-are we going far and fast enough?”
APPG on Access to Medicines and Medical Devices, 08 March

COVID and Brexit have both accelerated change in the access to medicines and medical devices space. The Life Sciences industry, patients and other stakeholders involved in the access agenda have an opportunity to put medicines and medical devices high up on the Government’s agenda to achieve a long-term resilient, sustainable health and care system in which they play a fundamental part.

In parallel, NICE and the MHRA have both been looking at how to improve their own processes, and how these can be streamlined. The APPG is therefore calling for evidence on the changes being proposed as part of this review, at a strategic rather than operational level. Ultimately, the APPG is seeking to answer the following question: ‘Are we going far enough and fast enough to keep pace with the changes in the health and care environment we face post Brexit and post COVID.’

This call for written evidence will therefore be conducted in three parts:

  • Part A: NICE – a three part consultation for change (responses by 24 March 2021)
  • Part B: MHRA – a new role as an international regulator (responses by 12 April 2021)
  • Part C: Government – a White Paper: Integration and Innovation (responses by 10 May 2021)

The APPG is seeking responses to Part A by Wednesday 24 March 2021, and the second and third parts of the call for evidence will follow.

House of Commons – Written Answer, 08 March

Kate Hollern (Labour, Blackburn): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of waiving the repayment of the £370 million allocated to community pharmacies during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jo Churchill (Conservative, Bury St Edmunds): Discussions are ongoing with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) on additional funding for costs incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The PSNC has proposed that the £370 million increased advance payments are not paid back to cover the COVID-19 costs incurred by community pharmacies. That proposal is being looked at as part of the Government’s ongoing assessment of COVID-19 costs incurred by the sector.

Free rapid tests for all businesses for regular workplace testing
Department of Health and Social Care, 06 March

All businesses in England are now able to sign up to the Government’s free COVID-19 workplace testing programme. As part of the Government’s roadmap to cautiously lift restrictions, businesses of all sizes, including those with fewer than 50 employees, can register to order free lateral flow tests for their employees.

An online portal has been launched for businesses to find out more about offering rapid workplace testing. Businesses will be provided with all the information they need to plan and deliver their testing programme, along with promotional materials.

All local authorities in England are now offering rapid lateral flow testing for small businesses if they can’t offer rapid workplace testing. Businesses can find their local test site online.

You can read the full press release here.

 

Full Coverage

COVID-19: UK rejects ‘completely false’ EU vaccine export ban claim
BBC News, Gavin Stamp, 09 March

A fresh row has broken out between the UK and the EU after the bloc’s most senior official suggested the UK had banned all COVID-19 vaccine exports.

Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, wrongly claimed the UK had an “outright ban” on exports of vaccines produced on its soil.

The BBC understands Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has written to him to say the claims are “completely false”.

An EU representative has been summoned for “further discussions”.

It is the second time since the start of the year that the UK and EU have been at loggerheads over the issue of the production and distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

In January, the EU introduced a new system of controls on vaccine exports amid concerns over availability of supplies on the continent, requiring producers to seek permission from national governments for planned sales.

The move sparked a wider row with the UK about the functioning of post-Brexit trade arrangements relating to Northern Ireland agreed by the two sides last year.

The EU drafted regulations which would have overridden the Northern Ireland Protocol and allowed it to potentially stop vaccines bound for Northern Ireland – although it backed down following widespread criticism.

The bloc’s leaders have been under pressure over the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines on the continent, compared with the UK, where 22.5 million people – a third of the adult population – have received their first dose.

Earlier this month, Italy blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia.

In his weekly briefing note, Mr Michel – who represents the bloc’s 27 members – said he was shocked when he heard the EU being accused of “vaccine nationalism” as the bloc had “never stopped exporting”.

“Here again, the facts do not lie,” he wrote.

“The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.

“But the European Union, the region with the largest vaccine production capacity in the world, has simply put in place a system for controlling the export of doses produced in the EU.”

In response, the BBC understands Mr Raab has written to Mr Michel to “set the record straight”, expressing concern that the “false claim has been repeated at various levels within the EU and the Commission”.

His letter is understood to say: “The UK government has not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine components. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false.”

He added: “We are all facing this pandemic together.”

After news of the row broke, Mr Michel tweeted that there were “different ways of imposing bans or restrictions on vaccines/medicines”.

The EU has faced production problems with three leading vaccines.

The rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was delayed in some countries because of a temporary reduction in deliveries, to enable Pfizer to increase capacity at its processing plant in Belgium.

Distribution of the Moderna jab also ran into problems, with Italy and France both saying they were receiving fewer vaccines than expected.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been in short supply within the EU as well, with production shortfalls at plants in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The UK, which is expected to have a large surplus of vaccines after ordering 400 million doses, has said it will donate most of those left over to poorer countries.

The UK, which left the EU in January 2020, is one of the leading financial backers of the Covax scheme, which aims to ensure vaccines are shared fairly among all nations, rich and poor.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said richer countries should send up to 5% of their current vaccine supplies to poorer nations.

Media Summary

Treasury’s COVID-19 loan demand ‘putting pharmacies in England at risk’
The Guardian, Denis Campbell, 08 March

The Guardian reports that hundreds of pharmacies in England could be forced to close, with the Treasury insisting they pay back much of the £370m allocated last year in emergency loans to help them stay open during the pandemic.

Ministers have been warned that most closures will occur in poorer areas and will hamper both the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and the annual winter flu jab campaign.

“The Government’s decision to demand repayment of the COVID-19 funding given to pharmacies will put many at risk of closure,” said Simon Dukes, Chief Executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee. “Sadly, most of these closures are likely to hit hardest the areas of the country where pharmacies are most needed,” he added.

Dukes wrote to the Chancellor ahead of his Budget speech last week and asked for the £370m to be written off. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said discussions with the pharmacy sector were ongoing.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Westminster Hall to hold a general debate on community pharmacies and the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak
Backbench Business Committee, 05 March

On Thursday 11th March, MPs will hold a general debate on community pharmacies and the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak in Westminster Hall.

Prior to the debate, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has urged MPs to contribute, and is encouraging Local Pharmaceutical Committees and contractors to write to their MPs asking them to join the debate.

Once made available, a full transcript of the debate will be provided.

Scottish Parliament – Written Answer, 04 March

Richard Leonard (Central Scotland, Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government whether all staff who work within community pharmacies will be prioritised for a COVID-19 vaccination.

Jeane Freeman (SNP, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): Some key workers, such as pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, are included in the top priority groups, and already eligible for a vaccine, but other pharmacy staff including drivers and medical home care delivery drivers who deliver medication and equipment to patient homes are not included in the priority list.

The decision is to not prioritise other pharmacy staff for the following reasons:

  • Criticality of service is not an indication for priority vaccination because clinical risk is the overriding concern. This is influenced most greatly by age, not occupation.
  • Currently there is no sectoral prioritisation of any workers other than frontline health and social care workers.
  • Individual staff will be called forward for vaccination according to their position on the priority list, if they are eligible within the JCVI Cohorts.

Our prioritisation decisions have been, and will continue to be, informed and guided by the independent expert advice from the JCVI.

 

Full Coverage

Treasury’s COVID-19 loan demand ‘putting pharmacies in England at risk’
The Guardian, Denis Campbell, 08 March

Hundreds of pharmacies in England could be forced to close because the Treasury is demanding repayment of emergency loans it gave them to help stay open during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ministers have been warned that most closures will occur in poorer areas and will hamper both the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and the annual winter flu jab campaign.

Pharmacy leaders claim that thousands of England’s 11,500 pharmacies are at risk because the Treasury is insisting that they pay back much of the £370m it gave them last year.

“The government’s decision to demand repayment of the COVID-19 funding given to pharmacies will put many at risk of closure,” said Simon Dukes, Chief Executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee.

“Sadly most of these closures are likely to hit hardest the areas of the country where pharmacies are most needed. We hope Rishi Sunak will intervene urgently,” he added.

Dukes wrote to the chancellor before his budget last week and asked for the £370m to be written off. However, his request appears to have been rebuffed.

In his letter to Sunak, Dukes said: “Last year, you said the NHS would get whatever resources it needs to deal with the pandemic. However, we understand from Treasury officials that this is not the case for NHS pharmacies.” The chancellor did not address the issue in his statement last Wednesday.

Pharmacies have used the money to make their premises safe and secure to stay open during the pandemic, with screens, personal protective equipment and cleaning to protect staff.

The Health Minister, Jo Churchill, lauded the key role pharmacies play in dispensing medicines and health advice when she announced the first tranche of £300m funding for pharmacies in April. “Every day community pharmacies carry out critical work to protect the health of the public and support the wider NHS. This is even more important now as we face this unprecedented time,” she said.

“We hugely value the role of the community pharmacy, which is why we are backing them with £300m of advanced funding to support them as we continue to assess the full additional impact of coronavirus on community pharmacy,” she added.

Ministers made further loans of £50m and £30m, bringing the total to £370m.

Scores of pharmacies are administering COVID vaccines, and during 2019-20 pharmacy teams delivered 1.5m of the 14.5m flu jabs administered in the UK.

The Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said discussions with the pharmacy sector were ongoing. They said: “Community pharmacies make a vital contribution to the NHS, and, throughout the pandemic, they have gone above and beyond to serve their communities, including in the vaccination rollout.

“To help them tackle COVID-19 we made £370m available for pharmacies in advance payments, on top of a deal committing nearly £13bn to the sector by 2024. Further funding, for costs incurred during the pandemic, is being discussed with the sector.”

Media Summary

There was no media coverage today.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

NHS planning for “substantial increased supply” in vaccines
Emily Lawson, NHS Chief Commercial Officer & Dr Nikita Kanani, Medical Director for Primary Care, 02 March

In a letter to NHS systems, NHSE&I has set out the next steps for the COVID-19 vaccination deployment programme.

The letter urged local systems to use recent guidance and other interventions to ensure all eligible frontline health and social care workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and clinically vulnerable, as well as unpaid carers and those aged 60 and over are offered a vaccination.

According to the letter, second dose delivery is already underway and national supplies for second doses will be distributed in the usual way.

From 11 March, the NHS is reportedly expecting vaccine supply to increase substantially and be sustained at a higher level for several weeks. Therefore, from the week of 15 March, NHSE&I are asking systems to plan and support all vaccination centres and local vaccination services to deliver around twice the level of vaccine available in the week of 01 March.

Delivery models will shortly receive supply notifications for the week of 08 March, with minimal allocations of new vaccine expected, as well as advanced notification of anticipated supply for the week of 15 March, which is expected to be much higher.

You can read the letter in full here.

 

Full Coverage

There was no media coverage today.

New HDA UK website. We are delighted to inform you that the HDA has launched its newly redesigned website at https://hdauk.com/. The new comprehensive website features a streamlined, modern design, improved functionality, and easy access to all the key information and documents you might need.

As we transition to this new website, all existing users will be required to change their password. Please check your emails for instructions on how to proceed, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with the HDA Secretariat on secretariat@hdauk.co.uk if you face any technical issues or have any questions.

Media Summary

HDA Executive Director Appears on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4, 01 March

Martin Sawer, Executive Director of the HDA, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ show yesterday afternoon to discuss the UK’s vaccine roll-out. Mr Sawer took this opportunity to highlight the highly sophisticated nature of the existing supply chain, and commended the NHS for its decision to use this existing network for the vaccine roll-out.

Mr Sawer highlighted the immense effort undertaken by healthcare distributors in delivering the vaccine to 1,800 different sites in England to date, noting the involvement of HDA member companies. Discussing plans to ramp up vaccinations in coming weeks, Mr Sawer confirmed that additional vaccination sites will be established as the roll-out progresses, also noting a greater involvement for community pharmacies with capacity requirements having recently been lowered.

Mr Sawer said he was confident in the existing distribution network’s ability to continue to satisfy demand, saying he did not foresee any issues from a logistics or capacity perspective. He added that recent comments made by Government ministers suggest that supply levels will be able to increase as planned in the coming weeks.

You can listen to Martin’s appearance from 06:32 here.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Colestid supply notification
Dispensing Doctors’ Association, Alisa Colquhoun, 01 March

The Dispensing Doctors’ Association has provided an update on the supply of certain medicines:

  • A Tier 2 medicines supply notification for Colestid (colestipol) orange and plain 5g granules sachets has been issued. The medicine will be out of stock until end of May but other bile-acid sequestrants remain available;
  • A Supply Disruption Alert has been issued for the discontinuation of morphine sulphate (MST CONTINUS) 20mg, 30mg, 60mg, 100mg and 200mg prolonged release granules for oral suspension; and
  • There have also been changes to the resupply dates of certain other medicines, including Fluoxetine 10mg tablets.

You can view further details on the supply notifications here.

House of Commons – Written Answer, 01 March

Bob Seely (Conservative, Isle of Wight): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the finding by Ernst and Young in its September 2020 report, “Impacts of current funding, policy and economic environment on independent pharmacy in England,” that three-quarters of independent pharmacies are at risk of closure by 2024.

Jo Churchill (Conservative, Bury St Edmunds): The data referenced in the Ernst and Young report is not publicly available and we are unable to verify its forecast. On 31 March 2020, latest published data available from the NHS Business Services Authority, there were 11,421 community pharmacies in England. This is 280 fewer pharmacies than on 31 March 2016 but 470 more than on 31 March 2011. Maintaining access to pharmaceutical services is a key priority for the Government and the Department continues to closely monitor the market.

House of Commons – Written Question, 01 March

Sarah Owen (Labour, Luton North): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what plans he has to allocate additional funding to community pharmacies to help them cover costs incurred as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

House of Commons – Written Question, 26 February

Kate Hollern (Blackburn, Labour): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of waiving the repayment of the £370 million allocated to community pharmacies during the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

Full Coverage

HDA Executive Director Appears on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4, 01 March

Martin Sawer, Executive Director of the HDA, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ show yesterday afternoon to discuss the UK’s vaccine roll-out. Mr Sawer took this opportunity to highlight the highly sophisticated nature of the existing supply chain, and commended the NHS for its decision to use this existing network for the vaccine roll-out.

Mr Sawer highlighted the immense effort undertaken by healthcare distributors in delivering the vaccine to 1,800 different sites in England to date, noting the involvement of HDA member companies. Discussing plans to ramp up vaccinations in coming weeks, Mr Sawer confirmed that additional vaccination sites will be established as the roll-out progresses, also noting a greater involvement for community pharmacies with capacity requirements having recently been lowered.

Mr Sawer said he was confident in the existing distribution network’s ability to continue to satisfy demand, saying he did not foresee any issues from a logistics or capacity perspective. He added that recent comments made by Government ministers suggest that supply levels will be able to increase as planned in the coming weeks.

You can listen to Martin’s appearance from 06:32 here.

From Factory to Pharmacy

As part of our mission to build awareness, understanding and appreciation of the vital importance of the healthcare distribution sector, we developed an infographic explaining the availability of medicines. It identifies the factors that can impact drug supply, as well as the measures that HDA members undertake day in, day out to help mitigate the risks of patients not receiving their medicines.

See the Infographic

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