Highlights From The HDA UK Annual Conference 2017

HDA UK’s Annual Conference 2017 highlights the value dilemma facing the medicines supply chain

London, 1 June 2017 – Members and guests of the Healthcare Distribution Association once again met for the HDA UK’s 2017 Annual Conference to debate the value dilemma facing the medicines supply chain in a period of great uncertainty for the sector.

Opening the Conference, Martin Sawer, HDA UK Executive Director, noted the challenges faced by the HDA given the evolving healthcare landscape:

The HDA needs to better articulate the role that safe and efficient wholesaling plays in medicine distribution and healthcare more generally in the UK. Communicating the value we provide should come alongside explaining the fragility of the UK’s universal medicines supply chain to emphasise the importance of its sustainability.

The value dilemma coined by Martin Sawer ran as a common thread throughout the day. The wide range of speakers invited to present during the day all touched on the challenges and sector opportunities posed by a dynamic political context, with the upcoming General Elections and Brexit negotiations. Mr Sawer went onto highlight:

“As the medicines supply chain faces increased pressure to deliver more value at a lesser cost, it should seek to work more collaboratively while encouraging competition in areas that drive healthcare value.”  

Below is set out summary of each speaker’s presentation.

Mike Thompson, ABPI, Chief Executive

Mike Thompson started by acknowledging the vital role played by HDA members in supporting the pharmaceutical industry to ensure medicines reach UK patients, taking the opportunity to personally thank them.

Having joined the ABPI less than a year ago, Mr. Thompson kicked off the discussion by stating:

I could not have imagined in taking up this role, the speed and scale of change we are now embracing(…) At the end of June last year, I found myself quoting Lenin for the first time since writing essays at University…’There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.’ Last June saw a week where one referendum changed five decades.”

He noted that Brexit will be one of the biggest and most complex challenges ever undertaken by a Government and their officials. Alongside such challenges, there is considerable cause for excitement. 7,000 new medicines are in development globally, and £4bn a year is invested in research and development. There is a lot at stake in the Life Sciences sector and it is up to the sector to seize these opportunities.

Mr. Thompson went on to say that discontinuities give everyone the opportunity to rethink the status quo and create the potential for bigger change. Disruption creates an opportunity to solve issues for the benefit of patients, the NHS and wider industry. Based on the ABPI’s recently published PwC report on the scale and footprint of Life Sciences in the UK, Mr. Thompson argued that no other sector spins such a wide economic web – one that is innovative, intricate and interwoven with collaboration.

Alex Harris, IHP, CEO

Alex Harris came to present CSR opportunities for the medicines supply chain at the European level. Mr. Harris is the CEO of International Health Partners, the largest facilitator of product donations between healthcare companies and aid agencies.

IHP is predicated on three tenets:

  • There is an overcapacity of medicines supply in developed markets, against an under capacity of medicines supply in developing markets;
  • We are facing the most severe refugee crisis since the Second World War;
  • There needs to be a regulated system for medicines donation.

Having recently returned from a trip to Iraq visiting refugee camps and local operations near the Kurdistan border, Harris drew attention to the huge insecurity in product donations – which should not be viewed as a long-term solution. The crisis, he reminded delegates, is a humanitarian one. IHP’s vision is simple but significant: to eradicate suffering caused by poor access to medicines. This involves bringing together places of need with places of plenty, and utilising platforms like EURMED – a not-for-profit initiative coordinating all medicine donations in the UK, Germany and Italy – to support donations.

Sarah Rickwood, QuintilesIMS, Vice President

Sarah Rickwood took on the not unsubstantial question of what is next for pharma in a post-Brexit Britain. Addressing this from a global angle, Mrs. Rickwood noted that after a decade of emerging market out-performance, global growth rates have converged and, in the macro-economic environment, budget management will become more innovative and internationally collaborative.

There will be a real drive in autoimmune, and later oncology and insulin products, with over $10Bn of biologics sales also open to biosimilars. Looking at market changes, it is apparent that whereas traditional sales have remained essentially flat over the last five years, spending on specialty medicines has risen rapidly, growing faster than the total market. However, the growth in complex specialty drugs is also driving up cost per patient.

Steve Anderson, Healthcare Distribution Association, Chair

Having returned to his role as HDA UK Chairman, Steve Anderson closed the Annual Conference’s open session commenting that “Change will be the only constant in this decade of upheaval”. The aim of the HDA should be to ensure that change happens with the industry, rather than to the industry. The HDA’s rebranding reflected this proactive engagement to collaborate with a broader range of stakeholders.

He went on to note that distributors continue to grow business with more value-add services. Productivity growth remains crucial and improving quality and collaboration will be pivotal. Day-to-day issues, however, still create inefficiencies and the medicines distribution sector is far from achieving a collaborative model. The HDA needs, more than ever, to continue to promote wholesalers’ strengths amid an ever-changing healthcare supply chain.


About the Healthcare Distribution Association

The Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA UK) represents those businesses who supply medicines, medical devices and healthcare services for patients, pharmacies, hospitals, doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. HDA UK members operate across the 4 nations of the United Kingdom enabling a safe, efficient and high-quality supply chain for the healthcare sector. They are responsible for distributing over 92% of NHS medicines and provide wholesaling services including working capital, stock management and IT systems to their supply chain partners. Formerly known as the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW), the Association rebranded in February 2016 to better reflect the evolving healthcare supply chain, as innovative practices and technologies make new services possible for manufacturers and to those who dispense medicines, reflecting the needs and choices of individual patients.

For more information please contact Martin Sawer on or Victoria Chartier on

Highlights From The HDA UK Annual Conference 2017

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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