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Media and Political Bulletin – 22 May 2020

Media and Political Bulletin

22 May 2020

Media Summary

Boris Johnson wants self-sufficiency to end reliance on Chinese imports

The Times, Oliver Wright and Lucy Fisher, 22 May 2020

The Times reports that Boris Johnson has ordered civil servants to draw up plans codenamed Project Defend to end Britain’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus crisis.

Project Defend is assessing the national resilience of “essential supplies”. A source said it had been tasked with “planning for future events — no matter what they might be”. A second “capabilities” group is looking at where the government needs to support industry to “onshore” critical production such as pharmaceutical supplies.

Whitehall sources said there was obvious concern in particular about the future supply of medicines. Most drugs sold in Britain have a complicated multinational supply chain with about 70 per cent of active ingredients made in China and much of the manufacturing, especially of generic drugs, done in India. Overall between 80 to 90 per cent of the UK’s supply of generic medicines are imported.

77% of pharmacies experience medicines shortages due to COVID-19

Chemist+Druggist, Eliza Slawther, 21 May 2020

Chemist+Druggist reports that COVID-19 related medicines shortages have affected 77% of pharmacy professionals and are the biggest problem businesses have faced since the outbreak, a C+D survey can reveal.

The C+D survey, which ran from April 1 to May 10 and covered pharmacy teams in all four UK nations, asked respondents how their business had been affected by COVID-19, with almost eight in 10 flagging up medicines shortages as a key concern.

When asked about their concerns over the impact of COVID-19 on their pharmacy going forward, 85% of 962 respondents to the question said they were worried about becoming infected with the virus or passing it on to others. Medicines shortages were the second biggest concern for the future, with 75.5% selecting it.

Parliamentary Coverage

There was no parliamentary coverage today.

Full Coverage

Boris Johnson wants self-sufficiency to end reliance on Chinese imports

The Times, Oliver Wright and Lucy Fisher, 22 May 2020

Boris Johnson has ordered civil servants to draw up plans codenamed Project Defend to end Britain’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus crisis.

Officials across Whitehall have been asked to identify the country’s key economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments as part of a new approach to national security.

The initiative, led by Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, could lead to the government intervening to support the “repatriation” of key manufacturing capabilities such as pharmaceuticals as part of a new national resilience framework. It is also looking at supply chain issues where critical UK businesses rely on components from abroad to make finished products.

The Times understands that two cross-departmental working groups have been set up as part of wider work being done across government to plan for the post-coronavirus economy.

Project Defend is assessing the national resilience of “essential supplies”. A source said it had been tasked with “planning for future events — no matter what they might be”. A second “capabilities” group is looking at where the government needs to support industry to “onshore” critical production such as pharmaceutical supplies.

One source suggested that these groups would feed into the government’s review of post-Brexit state aid rules to make them more flexible to support industries that were of strategic national importance to the UK.

The work carried out by officials was leading to a reassessment of what was considered to be in the national security interest, a source said. “We’re seeing resilience as a national security issue. If we are reliant on other states for particular things that is, in effect, a national security concern. The question is how can you mitigate that? You’ve got an awful lot of national security people working into these kinds of things.”

Another said: “It is about the diversification of supply lines so we are no longer dependent on individual countries for non-food essentials.”

Last week it emerged that the UK was strategically dependent on China for 71 critical goods categories. Active pharmaceutical ingredients needed to make painkillers, antibiotics and antiviral drugs are among the items for which Britain is a net importer and it relies on China for 50 per cent of its supplies. Industrial chemicals, certain metal products and consumer electronics including mobile phones and laptops are others, according to international trade data analysed by the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank that takes a hawkish stance on China.

Whitehall sources said there was obvious concern in particular about the future supply of medicines. Most drugs sold in Britain have a complicated multinational supply chain with about 70 per cent of active ingredients made in China and much of the manufacturing, especially of generic drugs, done in India. Overall between 80 to 90 per cent of the UK’s supply of generic medicines are imported.

The government review is understood to include PPE and drugs but is looking at all areas of vulnerability particularly after the aggressive stance taken by China in response to international criticism of its initial handling of the Covid-19 crisis. “The way China has been acting has really alarmed people in Downing Street,” said one person familiar with their thinking.

The UK’s approach is being mirrored by other European countries. On Monday President Macron of France and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, called for greater EU sovereignty on medical products.

The work is linked to separate government proposals to make it harder for foreign companies to buy up strategically important British companies that have lost value during the pandemic.

Mr Johnson told MPs on Wednesday he would introduce measures to “protect our technological base”.

The government said: “The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the importance of resilient supply chains to ensure the continued flow of essential items and keep global trade moving. That’s why we’re looking at what steps we can take to ensure we have diverse supply chains in place, to avoid shortages in the event of a future crisis.

77% of pharmacies experience medicines shortages due to COVID-19

Chemist+Druggist, Eliza Slawther, 21 May 2020

COVID-19 related medicines shortages have affected 77% of pharmacy professionals and are the biggest problem businesses have faced since the outbreak, a C+D survey can reveal.

Seventy-seven per cent of the 932 pharmacy professionals who responded to the survey’s question said they have experienced medicines shortages as a result of COVID-19.

The C+D survey, which ran from April 1 to May 10 and covered pharmacy teams in all four UK nations, asked respondents how their business had been affected by COVID-19, with almost eight in 10 flagging up medicines shortages as a key concern.

One respondent said that medicines shortages were “making life extremely difficult” and called for a “clearer price concession system” to mitigate against the dispensing losses they were incurring.

“Increased prescription volume and drug shortages have added to an already huge workload,” another respondent commented.

Two other respondents said trying to source alternative medicines for patients was time-consuming, and one commented that they were “continually having to contact prescribers for alternatives”. Several respondents said patients do not understand medicines shortages.

The question allowed multiple answers to be selected, with 54% of respondents highlighting a lack of protective equipment as an essential problem, 50% an absence of COVID-19 testing for staff and 48% less money from clinical services since the start of the outbreak.

Future problems

When asked about their concerns over the impact of COVID-19 on their pharmacy going forward, 85% of 962 respondents to the question said they were worried about becoming infected with the virus or passing it on to others.

Medicines shortages were the second biggest concern for the future, with 75.5% selecting it.

Other major concerns were a lack of personal protective equipment (55%), a lack of COVID-19 tests for staff (52%) having to close the business due to staff sickness (47%) and less money from clinical services (42%)

Several respondents commented about the price of medicines having risen above the drug tariff price, with one stating that an issue is “huge increases in generic prices”, for which pharmacies “will not be compensated”.

One respondent gave the example of sertraline tablets and explained that “low supply and high demand” of some “key medicines”, such as sertraline 50mg and 100mg has caused an overinflation of prices. A different person described sertraline as “extortionate”.

Media and Political Bulletin – 22 May 2020

From Factory to Pharmacy

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