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Media and Political Bulletin – 30 March 2020

Media and Political Bulletin

30 March 2020

Media Summary

Small pharmacies facing closure as drug prices rise

The Times, Callum Jones, 30 March 2020

The Times reports that hundreds of community pharmacies face an “imminent risk” of going under without urgent government support, Rishi Sunak has been warned.

Industry leaders called on ministers to act “without delay” and increase funding for chemists to help keep their doors open. Jonathan Cooper of Coopers Chemists said the “massive increase” in demand created by Covid-19 “will be our swansong” unless the sector was thrown a lifeline.

There are more than 12,000 community pharmacies in England and Wales. A surge in demand for prescription medication has exacerbated an existing issue, Mr Cooper said, with the NHS drugs tariff in some cases considerably lower than the prices pharmacies pay suppliers.

The NPA said the country’s network of chemists was “financially extremely fragile”. The PSNC said the “additional challenge” of drug price increases required government intervention.

Coronavirus: Two-thirds of Britons want UK to request Brexit extension to focus on pandemic, poll shows

The Independent, Harry Cockburn, 29 March 2020

The Independent reports that two-thirds of people in the UK want the government to request an extension to the Brexit transition period in order to focus on the coronavirus outbreak, a new opinion poll indicates.

The poll of over 2,000 adults revealed such an extension was supported by all age groups, social grades and UK regions, and also had relatively high support among Conservative and Brexit Party voters. The Focaldata poll was commissioned by cross-party campaign groups Best for Britain and Hope Not Hate.

The call for an extension to the transition period has been echoed by numerous bodies and pressure groups, including the Scottish and Welsh governments.

UK ministers under fire over ventilator delays

Financial Times, Michael Pooler, Laura Hughes and Jim Brunsden, 27 March 2020

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

Vital drug for people with lupus running out after unproven Covid-19 link

The Guardian, Sarah Boseley, 27 March 2020

The Guardian reports that a race for an unproven “cure” for Covid-19 is clearing pharmacy shelves of a medicine that is vital for up to 5 million people around the world suffering from lupus, as countries abandon the trials that would show whether hydroxychloroquine works against coronavirus infection.

Both Italy and France have said doctors can now prescribe hydroxychloroquine, even though there is no robust evidence to prove that it is effective against Covid-19. Popular pressure for access to the drug has been ramped up by pronouncements from presidents Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, both of whom have claimed it is a cure.

But the drug is already running out for people with lupus, a disorder of the immune system, who rely on it to stay well. Shortages are being reported from the UK to Thailand to France. India, which manufactures the raw ingredient, has banned all exports of the chemical to safeguard its own supplies and recommended all health workers to take the drug to protect themselves from the virus.

UK government calls for increased supply of COVID-19 testing kits

European Pharmaceutical Review, Victoria Rees, 27 March 2020

European Pharmaceutical Review reports that the UK government has made an urgent call to the life sciences sector to help increase the supply of antigen testing kits for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The requirement is for commercial supply of the following:

  • Full testing packages

Any of the separate components within the testing package

Any alternative tests government should be considering

The specification for a testing kit is included in the full coverage of the article further down. Any organisations that can supply for sale any or all of the above should email covid19testing@dhsc.gov.uk as soon as possible.

Rules on carrying over annual leave to be relaxed to support key industries during COVID-19

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, The Rt Hon George Eustice MP, and The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, 27 March 2020

Workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 leave years, under measures introduced by Business Secretary Alok Sharma on Friday 27 March.

The regulations will allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 leave years, easing the requirements on business to ensure that workers take statutory amount of annual leave in any one year.

This will mean staff can continue working in the national effort against the coronavirus without losing out on annual leave entitlement.

The changes will also ensure all employers affected by COVID-19 have the flexibility to allow workers to carry over leave at a time when granting annual leave could leave them short-staffed in some of Britain’s key industries, such as food and healthcare.

 

 

Parliamentary Coverage

There was no parliamentary coverage today.

 

Full Coverage

Small pharmacies facing closure as drug prices rise

The Times, Callum Jones, 30 March 2020

Hundreds of community pharmacies face an “imminent risk” of going under without urgent government support, Rishi Sunak has been warned.

Industry leaders called on ministers to act “without delay” and increase funding for chemists to help keep their doors open. Jonathan Cooper, of Coopers Chemists, an independent chain in Yorkshire, said the “massive increase” in demand created by Covid-19 “will be our swansong” unless the sector was thrown a lifeline.

In a letter to Mr Sunak, the chancellor and his local MP, Mr Cooper wrote: “There is a serious and imminent risk that the NHS will lose a service that is clearly vital to the community and our country. Community pharmacy desperately needs to be properly remunerated for the work we are doing and not left with debts we will never be able to pay off as a result of giving everything to tackle this pandemic.”

There are more than 12,000 community pharmacies in England and Wales. Mr Sunak has spoken of working in his mother’s Southampton chemist when growing up.

A surge in demand for prescription medication has exacerbated an existing issue, Mr Cooper said, with the NHS drugs tariff — which pharmacies receive for selling generic prescription drugs — in some cases considerably lower than the prices pharmacies pay suppliers.

“The increase in demand for generics is creating shortages and the cost prices are rising far faster than the tariff and concession system can react,” he wrote. “We have no time or resources to chase the best prices round the wholesalers to mitigate the significant losses . . . we know we are making.”

A Whitehall source said Mr Sunak had received an “enormous” amount of correspondence and was not familiar with the case.

The National Pharmacy Association said the country’s network of chemists was “financially extremely fragile”.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which speaks directly with the government on behalf of chemists, said the “additional challenge” of drug price increases required government intervention. Simon Dukes, its chief executive, said the committee was in discussions with officials regarding “protection for pharmacies against sudden price rises”.

Coronavirus: Two-thirds of Britons want UK to request Brexit extension to focus on pandemic, poll shows

The Independent, Harry Cockburn, 29 March 2020

Two-thirds of people in the UK want the government to request an extension to the Brexit transition period in order to focus on the coronavirus outbreak, a new opinion poll indicates.

The poll of over 2,000 adults revealed such an extension was supported by all age groups, social grades and UK regions, and also had relatively high support among Conservative and Brexit Party voters.

The Focaldata poll was commissioned by cross-party campaign groups Best for Britain and Hope Not Hate.

The call for an extension to the transition period has been echoed by numerous bodies and pressure groups, including the Scottish and Welsh governments.

Two-thirds of respondents (64 per cent) said they agreed with the statement: “The government should request an extension to the transition period in order to focus properly on the coronavirus.” However, just a third (36 per cent) agreed with the statement: “The Brexit transition period must end on 31 December whether a deal has been fixed or not.”

Best for Britain said the responses broke down into predictable support from those who voted for Labour (84 per cent) and the Lib Dems (83 per cent) at the last election, but that the first statement was also supported by nearly half of those who voted Conservative (44 per cent) and a fifth of Brexit Party voters (19 per cent).

An extension was supported by more than 50 per cent of people across all age groups, with 18-24 year olds the most supportive (78 per cent) and 65-plus year olds the least supportive (although still 52 per cent) – meaning there is no generational divide in the country over an extension request.

The SNP has also urged the UK government to “hit pause” on the Brexit negotiations and seek an extension to the transition period while authorities grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

The party’s Brexit spokeswoman, MP Philippa Whitford, said it would be irresponsible and “an act of economic and social self-harm” to continue “hurtling” towards the transition deadline.

The Focaldata poll also indicated most people would like the government to seek membership of the EU Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) for medical emergencies, after it emerged earlier this month the Department of Health had been unsuccessful in lobbying No 10 to remain a member.

A total of 65 per cent of people in the UK, including 55 per cent of those who voted Conservative at the last election, want the government to seek membership of the EWRS.

The EWRS was set up in 1998 to “allow exchange of information on risk assessment and risk management for more timely, efficient and coordinated public health action”.

The NHS Confederation has identified membership of the EWRS as a priority, arguing that tackling global outbreaks such as coronavirus would become “more difficult if the UK loses access”.

Speaking about the poll, Best for Britain chief executive Naomi Smith said: “It’s simply not reasonable to expect we will have tied up negotiations with the EU by the end of the year while dealing with a warlike emergency. Nor is it desirable.

“By thinking it can complete both challenges at once, the government would be setting itself up for failure with profound economic consequences.

“Most people just want the government to get on with the job at hand so that lives can be saved and normality restored as quickly as possible.”

She added: “The country is simply not in a place to weather two storms at the moment.”

Hope Not Hate chief executive Nick Lowles said: “EU schemes like the Early Warning and Response System and the ventilator procurement programme are critical tools for responding to this urgent public health crisis.

“Healthcare workers are doing a fantastic job, but they cannot fight this disease alone. They need all the help they can get.

“The government must put politics aside and urgently seek participation in these schemes. It would be foolhardy for ideology to get in the way of practical measures to keep people safe.”

The government has recently said it remains “fully committed to the negotiations”, which it said are continuing.

The Independent has contacted Downing Street for comment.

UK ministers under fire over ventilator delays

Financial Times, Michael Pooler, Laura Hughes and Jim Brunsden, 27 March 2020

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

Vital drug for people with lupus running out after unproven Covid-19 link

The Guardian, Sarah Boseley, 27 March 2020

A stampede for an unproven “cure” for Covid-19 is clearing the pharmacy shelves of a medicine that is vital for up to 5 million people around the world suffering from lupus, as countries bow to populist pressure and abandon the trials that would show whether hydroxychloroquine works against coronavirus infection.

Both Italy and France have said doctors can now prescribe hydroxychloroquine – a less toxic version of the malaria drug chloroquine – even though there is no robust evidence to prove that it is effective against Covid-19.

Popular pressure for access to the drug has been ramped up by pronouncements from presidents Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, both of whom have claimed it is a cure. An Australian businessman, the former politician Clive Palmer, has pledged to fund 1m doses “to ensure all Australians would have access to the drug as soon as possible”.

But the drug is already running out for people with lupus, a disorder of the immune system, who rely on it to stay well. Shortages are being reported from the UK to Thailand to France. India, which manufactures the raw ingredient, has banned all exports of the chemical to safeguard its own supplies and recommended all health workers to take the drug to protect themselves from the virus.

“We are incredibly concerned at the moment,” said Paul Howard of Lupus UK. “We started receiving inquiries from patients across the UK about a week ago. That’s been rapidly increasing – more and more people each day.”

For 90% of the more than 60,000 people in the UK with lupus, hydroxychloroquine is the mainstay of their treatment, preventing their immune system making too many antibodies, which can otherwise attack the body’s organs – mainly the kidneys and the skin, but also the heart, lungs and brain.

“Their local pharmacies don’t have any stocks available on the shelves,” said Howard. “They have no date for when they can expect stocks to arrive.”

There is no good alternative, he said. Other immunosuppressants have toxic side-effects and may put people at greater risk of Covid-19.

A nationalistic scramble is now on around the world to secure supplies of hydroxychloroquine in spite of the absence of rigorous evidence in the treatment of the coronavirus. One small trial in China produced good results, but was far from sufficient to show that it works.

In France, the government caved to pressure from a doctor who ran his own very small and rapid trial of the drug combined with an antibiotic in 26 people, using methodology that has been seriously criticised. Dr Didier Raoult, a professor of infectious diseases who works at La Timone hospital in Marseille, then declared in a video on YouTube that chloroquine was a cure for Covid-19 and should be used immediately.

Raoult walked out of the scientific advisory committee advising the government. A social media frenzy began, with allegations that the government was being influenced by the big pharmaceutical companies which wanted to block hydroxychloroquine because it was cheap, being out of patent. People queued outside Raoult’s hospital to be tested and get the drug, defying the lockdown. Finally, the French government gave way and decreed that hospitals could prescribe it for any Covid-19 patient. They can also give the anti-HIV medicine which is supposed to be in global trials for Covid-19, Kaletra, which is a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir.

Italy has followed suit. The government announced on Friday that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could be used to treat all Covid-19 patients and paid for entirely by the Italian national healthcare system. It would also pay for Kaletra.

The impact on the global trials to find out what really works is serious. Nick White, a professor of tropical medicine at Mahidol University in Thailand and at the University of Oxford, says the problem is enormous – not so much for malaria, where the drug is now less used, but for lupus patients and for hopes of finding out what works and sharing it globally.

“From Fauci [US government infectious diseases adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci] to the head of the World Health Organization, everyone says trials. It may be worse than nothing. We don’t know,” he said.

“The nationalistic shuttering down of export and import of drugs is serious. Drugs are manufactured in relatively small numbers of places and have to be moved to other places.

“The indirect harm could be worse than the impact of Covid-19,” he said. “it is not just the drugs that might work. It is all drugs. Italy, for instance, is a major source of drugs for the NHS. This is a very big area. It is getting bigger by the minute. And the opportunity to answer the sensible question – do these things work, yes or no? – is narrowing as countries become more nationalistic in terms of hoarding drugs.”

UK government calls for increased supply of COVID-19 testing kits

European Pharmaceutical Review, Victoria Rees, 27 March 2020

The UK government has reached out to the life sciences sector to ask potential suppliers of COVID-19 testing kits to get in contact.

The UK government has made an urgent call to the life sciences sector to help increase the supply of antigen testing kits for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The requirement is for commercial supply of the following:

  • Full testing packages

Any of the separate components within the testing package

Any alternative tests government should be considering

The specification for a testing kit is as follows:

1 Swabs:

Nasopharangeal (Floxsynthetic fiber tipped (polyester) or flocked swabs) with polystyrene shafts that are scored at 80mm for a breakpoint

Nasopharyngeal (minitip) are currently preferred

No discoloration on the swab bud (ie, yellowing or brown discoloration)

Sterilised and individually wrapped

No calcium alginate swabs

No swabs with wooden shafts

Nose and throat swabs (Rayon tipped – US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review in process)

1 Sample vial:

Glass (20.25 +- 0.25 x 47.25+- 0.5) and plastic (TBD)

1 Viral transport medium:

COVID-19 transport medium

1 Alcohol/sanitiser wipes

2 Re-packaging (storage/biohazard packaging)

  • Vial wrap – specification TBD
  • Sealed zip lock bag
  • Second bag (plastic/cushioned)
  • Sealable container – ‘biobottle’
  • Postal ‘biobox’.

In addition, there is also a requirement for swabs for PCR diagnostic testing.

Any organisations that can supply for sale any or all of the above should email covid19testing@dhsc.gov.uk as soon as possible.

Rules on carrying over annual leave to be relaxed to support key industries during COVID-19

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, The Rt Hon George Eustice MP, and The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, 27 March 2020

Workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 leave years.

Workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 leave years, under measures introduced by Business Secretary Alok Sharma today (Friday 27 March).

Currently, almost all workers are entitled to 28 days holiday including bank holidays each year. However, most of this entitlement cannot be carried between leave years, meaning workers lose their holiday if they do not take it.

There is also an obligation on employers to ensure their workers take their statutory entitlement in any one year – failure to do so could result in a financial penalty.

The regulations will allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 leave years, easing the requirements on business to ensure that workers take statutory amount of annual leave in any one year.

This will mean staff can continue working in the national effort against the coronavirus without losing out on annual leave entitlement.

The changes will also ensure all employers affected by COVID-19 have the flexibility to allow workers to carry over leave at a time when granting annual leave could leave them short-staffed in some of Britain’s key industries, such as food and healthcare.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said:

“Whether it is in our hospitals, or our supermarkets, people are working around the clock to help our country deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Today’s changes will mean these valued employees do not lose out on the annual leave they are entitled to as a result of their efforts, and employers are not penalised.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

“From our fields to our supermarkets, we are hugely grateful to the many people working around the clock to keep the nation fed.

“At this crucial time, relaxing laws on statutory leave will help ensure key workers can continue the important work to keep supplies flowing, but without losing the crucial time off they are entitled to.

“We welcome the measures the food industry is already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus.”

The changes will amend the Working Time Regulations, which apply to almost all workers, including agency workers, those who work irregular hours, and workers on zero-hours contracts.

The change is aimed at allowing businesses under particular pressure from the impacts of COVID-19 the flexibility to better manage their workforce, while protecting workers’ right to paid holiday.

Media and Political Bulletin – 30 March 2020

From Factory to Pharmacy

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