News

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 04 March 2021

Media Summary

Grace period on supermarket agri-food to continue to October

Belfast Telegraph, Michael McHugh, 03 March 2021

The Belfast Telegraph reports that the British Government has unilaterally said the grace period for post-Brexit supermarket agri-food movements from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland will continue until October. Certification requirements will then be introduced in phases alongside the rollout of a digital assistance scheme, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis added.

Businesses in Northern Ireland have been pressing for an extension to avoid a cliff-edge plunge into extra bureaucracy linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Mr Lewis said: “These recognise that appropriate time must be provided for businesses to implement new requirements, and support the effective flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

The first of the grace periods had been due to expire at the end of March. Should the grace period have finished at the end of this month, export health certificates for all shipments of animal products would have been required. Read more in Reuters.

However, according to ITV News, the EU is claiming that extending this grace period without any consultation breaks international law, with European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic saying the UK is in violation of its post-Brexit obligations. Westminster has defended its decision as the minimum step necessary, with Cabinet member Lord David Frost saying the UK’s intervention should allow time for constructive discussions with counterparts in Brussels. Read more on LBC.

 

Pharmacist jailed for selling £1m of controlled drugs on black market

Chemist+Druggist, Aleks Phillips, 03 March 2021

C+D reports that a West Midlands pharmacist who illegally sold “hundreds of thousands” of prescription-only medicines (POMs) on the black market has been sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Balkeet Singh Khaira pleaded guilty to five counts of supplying controlled class C drugs on 09 February at Birmingham Crown Court, where he was sentenced on 02 March.

Following an investigation by the MHRA and West Midlands Police, it was discovered that Mr Khaira had made over £59,000 by illegally selling drugs from his mother’s West Bromwich pharmacy between 2016 and 2017.

Investigators found records at the pharmacy showing that, of hundreds of thousands of doses of diazepam, nitrazepam, tramadol, zolpidem and zopiclone purchased from wholesalers, only a small percentage had been dispensed against prescriptions. This left more than 800,000 pills unaccounted for, which Mr Khaira later admitted he had sold to drug dealers.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Oral Statement to Parliament: Budget Speech 2021

HM Treasury and The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, 03 March 2021

Yesterday Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his Budget 2021 speech. Below you will find some of the key takeaways, and the full transcript of the speech can be accessed here.

Vaccine rollout

A number of measures were announced to further bolster the UK’s vaccine-related capabilities, including:

  • An extra £1.65 billion cash injection to ensure the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in England continues to be a success.
  • £28 million to increase the UK’s capacity for vaccine testing, support for clinical trials, and to improve the UK’s ability to rapidly acquire samples of new variants of COVID-19.
  • £22 million for a world-leading study to test the effectiveness of combinations of different COVID-19 vaccines.

Community pharmacy funding

Ahead of yesterday’s Budget, the PSNC had called on the Chancellor to intervene in the ongoing COVID-19 funding negotiations and ensure that pharmacies do not have to pay back any of the £370 million in emergency loans they received last year.

The Budget being delivered with no mention of the sector, PSNC Chief Executive Simon Dukes said the fact that the Government failed to commit to covering pharmacy’s COVID costs was “exasperating and disappointing”.

Health and social care funding

Many industry stakeholders expressed their disappointed at the lack of extra funding for the NHS given the significant backlog of care. The NHS England budget will in fact be cut in cash terms, by around £9bn in 2021-22. With social care reforms due later this year, no funding was announced for this part of the sector, despite experts highlighting the need for urgent financial support.

Chair of the Health & Social Care Select Committee Jeremy Hunt MP tweeted that there was little hope for the social care sector, which was “bruised and demoralised”. He added that the sector desperately needed to know a plan was coming.

Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards also responded, saying that the Chancellor will need to go further in his pledge to give the NHS what it needs to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic. He added that structural reform, short-term funding and support were critical for the social care sector.

Richard Sloggett, Founder and Programme Director of Future Health, also commented that the lack of reference to health and social care was disappointing given the level of recovery needed.

Read more in The Financial Times.

Innovation/life sciences funding

The Government will commit £375m to the UK-wide ‘Future Fund: Breakthrough’, which will invest in R&D-intensive industries such as life sciences. The new initiative will involve Government money being matched by private sector venture capital, and targets highly innovative companies that are aiming to raise at least £20 million of funding.

The ABPI noted the recognition awarded to innovative companies in the life sciences industry, and welcomed the measures introduced to attract more cutting-edge investment to the UK.

Northern Ireland

The Chancellor announced that almost half of the £400 million New Deal for Northern Ireland funding has been allocated, subject to business cases, to: new systems for supermarkets and small traders to manage new trading arrangements; building greater resilience in medicine supply chains; promoting Northern Ireland’s goods and services overseas; and supporting skills development.

Freeports

In a bid to boost post-Brexit investment and trade, the Chancellor unveiled the creation of freeports – areas within a country that are legally designated as outside its borders, and as such follow different tax and customs rules. Goods imported into this free trade zone may be exempt from tariffs, unless they subsequently cross the border into the host country.

The creation of eight new freeports, including in Teesside, Humber and Plymouth, has been confirmed. Seven seaports – including Felixstowe, Liverpool, Solent and Thames – and East Midlands airport also won freeport status, with talks continuing over potential sites in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Experts have argued that the EU, and in particular its state aid rules, have limited the potential benefits from freeports. Freeports within the EU are seen as much narrower than others globally, such as Singapore. Read more in The Telegraph.

 

Continuation of the Scheme for Temporary Agri-Food Movements to NI for Authorised Traders Moving Agri-Food Goods from GB to NI

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 03 March 2021

The UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has issued guidance and correspondence on the continuation of the Scheme for Temporary Agri-food Movements to Northern Ireland (STAMNI) arrangements for Authorised Traders beyond 31 March 2021.

This means Authorised Traders can continue to move products of animal origin, composite products, food and feed of non-animal origin and plants and plant products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without the need for official certification (such as export health certificates, phytosanitary certificates or marketing standards certification).

The STAMNI arrangements will continue to be in place until at least 01 October 2021, after which there will be a phased introduction of certification requirements for authorised traders.

View DEFRA guidance on the continuation of the STAMNI arrangements for authorised traders moving agri-food goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland on the HDA website here.

View a letter from Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Hon George Eustice MP, regarding the continuation of the arrangements on the HDA website here.

 

Vaccination plans for community pharmacy COVID vaccination sites for weeks of 8 March to 29 March 2021

Ed Waller, Director for Primary Care Strategy and NHS Contracts, 02 March 2021

In a letter to community pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination sites, Ed Waller describes forthcoming vaccine supply for first doses, providing advanced notification of a substantial increase in the volume of vaccine available, and the need to use it quickly to prevent wastage.

 

Full Coverage

 

Grace period on supermarket agri-food to continue to October

Belfast Telegraph, Michael McHugh, 03 March 2021

The British Government has unilaterally said the grace period for post-Brexit supermarket agri-food movements from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland “will continue” until October.

Certification requirements will then be introduced in phases alongside the rollout of a digital assistance scheme, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis added.

Businesses in Northern Ireland have been pressing for an extension to avoid a cliff-edge plunge into extra bureaucracy linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Lewis said: “As part of the pragmatic and proportionate implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Government is taking several temporary operational steps to avoid disruptive cliff edges as engagement with the EU continues through the Joint Committee.

“These recognise that appropriate time must be provided for businesses to implement new requirements, and support the effective flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

Checks on goods at Northern Ireland’s Irish Sea ports were agreed between Northern Ireland and the EU, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and keep the region following the bloc’s trade rules.

That has caused some disruption to Irish Sea trade and prompted a backlash from unionists who fear it threatens Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

Mr Lewis said: “For supermarkets and their suppliers, as part of the operational plan the UK committed to at the UK-EU Joint Committee on February 24, the current Scheme for Temporary Agri-food Movements to Northern Ireland (STAMNI) will continue until October 1.

“Certification requirements will then be introduced in phases alongside the rollout of the Digital Assistance Scheme.”

He said further guidance will be provided later this week on parcel movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, to provide necessary additional time for traders beyond April 1.

“Guidance will also be set out to help address practical problems on soil attached to the movement of plants, seeds, bulbs, vegetables and agricultural machinery.”

The first of the grace periods had been due to expire at the end of March.

Supermarkets would have had to produce Export Health Certificates for all shipments of animal products.

Under the terms of the protocol, which governs the movement of goods in and out of the region post-Brexit, all non-prohibited agri-food goods arriving from GB require an EU export health certificate (EHC) declaring that they pose no risk.

They are a consequence of a Brexit deal that has resulted in Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market for goods, while the rest of the UK has left that regulatory zone.

There are hundreds of different types of EHCs, with different forms for different products – and some products having multiple certificate versions.

The DUP is aiming to undermine the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The party’s Stormont Agriculture Minister, Gordon Lyons, sparked controversy on Friday night when he announced he had ordered officials to halt work on planned permanent facilities to carry out inspections on goods from Great Britain.

Rival politicians have accused Mr Lyons of stunt politics and have insisted he does not have the authority to act unilaterally on issues considered significant or controversial.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance parties have made clear such decisions can only be taken by the Executive as a whole.

 

Pharmacist jailed for selling £1m of controlled drugs on black market

Chemist+Druggist, Aleks Phillips, 03 March 2021

A West Midlands pharmacist who illegally sold “hundreds of thousands” of prescription-only medicines (POMs) on the black market has been sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Balkeet Singh Khaira (registration number 2069004), 37, of Sutton Drive, Sutton Coldfield, pleaded guilty to five counts of supplying controlled class C drugs on February 9 at Birmingham Crown Court, where he was also sentenced yesterday (March 2).

Following an investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and West Midlands Police, it was discovered that Mr Khaira had made over £59,000 by illegally selling drugs from his mother’s West Bromwich pharmacy between 2016 and 2017.

His mother was not involved in any of the criminal activity, the MHRA said.

Investigation

Investigators found records at the pharmacy showing that, of hundreds of thousands of doses of diazepam, nitrazepam, tramadol, zolpidem and zopiclone purchased from wholesalers, only a small percentage had been dispensed against prescriptions. This left more than 800,000 pills unaccounted for, which Mr Khaira later admitted he had sold to drug dealers.

Mr Khaira claimed that while he had initially made a voluntary sale to drug dealers, he was subsequently “forced” into selling on more medicines after being “threatened outside of his pharmacy”, the MHRA said.

Previously, when he had been contacted about the investigation by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), Mr Khaira pretended to be his mother and said he was “shocked and blindsided” by the accusations, according to the MHRA. He then went on to provide falsified evidence, it said. He was suspended from the GPhC register under an interim order while waiting for the case to come to trial.

Grant Powell, Lead MHRA Enforcement Officer for the case, said: “Anyone who sells medicines illegally could be exploiting vulnerable people and clearly has no regard for their health or welfare.

“Prescription only medicines are potent and should only be taken under medical supervision.”

West Midlands Police declined to comment.

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 04 March 2021

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