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Harris warns against stockpiling of medicines ahead of Brexit

Health Minister Simon Harris has urged people not to panic buy drugs in the weeks before Brexit, warning secret stockpiling could cause an "unintended" medicines access crisis that will put vulnerable patients at risk.

Mr Harris insisted the public, hospitals and pharmacists must not "hamper the supply of medicines" despite admitting drugs linked to feeding seriously ill people in hospitals and nursing homes, x-rays and some surgeries are on an unofficial 24-drug "watch list".

Speaking to reporters at a detailed no deal Brexit emergency planning briefing to outline the Department of Health plans signed off on by cabinet, Mr Harris said the Government believes drugs will still be accessed come March 29.

While noting the fact almost two thirds of all 4,000 drugs marketed in Ireland currently travel through Britain before arriving in this country, Mr Harris said only a "small number of these products may be vulnerable" to Brexit.

Mr Harris said although he has not been told by officials of any medicine that will be immediately unavailable in a no deal Brexit scenario, issues such as shelf-life, special storage and transportation difficulties mean 24 medicines are on a "watch list".

On four separate occasions the Minister refused to reveal the exact identities of the medicines other than to say they relate to intravenous foods and radiographers.

These types of medications are used for a wide variety of conditions in hospitals, including feeding seriously ill people in hospital and nursing homes, x-ray and surgery work.

However, stressing the Department of Health, HSE and the Health Products Regulatory Authority have already taken steps to "minimise and address any risks to continuity of supply", Mr Harris urged people not to panic buy or stockpile drugs.

"If people take it upon themselves [to stockpile], there will be unintended consequences," Mr Harris said when asked to clarify that people should not panic buy medicines in the run-up to Brexit.

In a Government briefing document provided during the meeting, the message was reiterated, stating:

"There are already additional stocks of medicines routinely built into the Irish medicine supply chain, and these additional stocks, together with planning by Revenue to allow the fast-tracking of essential drugs into Ireland, will help deal with any delays and shortages that may arise.

It is important to note there is no need for hospitals, pharmacists or patients to order extra quantities of medicines, as doing so could disrupt existing stock levels and hamper the supply of medicines for other patients.

While Mr Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have acknowledged in recent days dozens of medicines could be affected in some way by Brexit, they have repeatedly refused to clarify the exact list of drugs involved.

It is believed this is because of a desire among officials to avoid panicking the public when access to stocks could be in shorter than usual supply.

In a memo to cabinet yesterday, Mr Harris said 24 medicines could be at some form of potential risk, despite stressing he has not been officially notified of any problems in terms of access to date.

The memo also ruled out the need for patient, pharmacist, GP or hospital stockpiling for now as Ireland has enough supplies of potentially affected medicines to last for eight to 10 weeks after any hard Brexit.

During last night's briefing to reporters, Mr Harris initially confirmed there is a 24-medicines "watch list" before later rowing back when asked to release the list of drugs, saying there is no official list in place.

However, the fact there is no definitive list available is likely to lead to concerns among some medics over the scale of the potential problem facing the sector - an issue raised by the Irish Pharmacy Union last Friday.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris also confirmed last night that almost two thirds of the 4,000 medicines marketed in Ireland currently travel through Britain to reach this country.

Mr Harris said the HSE and the Health Products Regulatory Authority have advised that the supply of "a small number" of these medicines may be at risk of a Brexit impact due to issues relating to short shelf life, special storage requirements and transportation difficulties.

However, he said that to date he has not been officially notified of any immediate concerns over access to specific drugs needed in Ireland.