Patients with these diseases will be hit hardest by no deal

by Rachel Dobbs | 21.01.2019

In December, Matt Hancock revealed that, thanks to Brexit, he had become “the largest buyer of fridges in the world”. The health secretary’s ice-box binge was fueled by a need to stockpile drugs if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Initially, the government thought that the UK might need six weeks’ worth of prescription and pharmacy medications, in case of disrupted supply chains. Before Christmas, that prediction was quietly raised to six months. Today we learned the Navy might not have time to refit its ships before Brexit to deliver medicines from the continent.

Most pharmaceutical bodies working with Whitehall signed non-disclosure agreements, preventing them from revealing exact details, so it’s tricky to calculate which drugs will be most scarce under no-deal. But it’s highly likely that things will be worst for patients with long-term illnesses, who rely on frequent medication with a short shelf life or special storage requirements. Below are five examples.


Insulin, which diabetics need daily, must always be kept between 2C and 8C. Currently, all analogue and synthetic human insulin – used by a vast majority of British diabetics – is imported from outside the UK. Two of the three main suppliers, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, operate out of France, Denmark and Germany. Last autumn, Novo Nordisk (who supplies Theresa May’s insulin) reassured the public that they were stockpiling at least 16 weeks’ supply to brace for a no-deal. If the government’s revised estimation of six months comes true, though, that might not be enough.

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Autoimmune diseases

Intravenous immunoglobulin – derived from blood plasma – is used to treat a range of disorders: Kawasaki disease, lupus, mytosis and multiple sclerosis (a neurological condition). Most plasma products come from outside the UK, including Ireland, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the US. Like insulin, immunoglobulins must be stored carefully at specific temperatures.


A lack of EpiPens – adrenaline injection pens used to treat severe allergic reactions – is already a problem. Mylan, the US manufacturer, ran out of stock last year, causing a global shortage and health bodies advising patients to use products past their sell by date. This shortage continues. European makers of injection pens have stepped up production to plug the gap, but Brexit jeopardises the possibility of them being sold here.

Bone, thyroid, cervical, prostate and neuroendocrine cancers

The UK currently imports radioactive isotopes from Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands, including Radium-233, Iodine-123, Iridium-192 and Lutetium-177. These substances have short half-lives and decay quickly, effectively becoming useless if they were held at the border for any length of time. That’s if they can be held at all – strict regulations about the storage of radioactive material means that lorries carrying isotopes may not even be allowed to wait near Calais.

Conditions requiring nuclear medical tests

Sadly, not having a diagnosis doesn’t guarantee immunity from Brexit. According to the British Nuclear Medicine Society, one million diagnostic nuclear tests are performed in the UK each year to detect conditions including stroke, kidney disease, Parkinson’s, cancer and dementia. Over three-quarters of these tests use a radioisotope with a six-hour half life, derived from molybdenum-99. This cannot be produced in the UK and is supplied weekly from the EU. Some drugs can be flown over, but the use and transport of radioactive material across Europe remains governed by Euratom, which the UK is leaving.

If these medicines aren’t available for the patients who need them, the health secretary will have more than a glut of fridges on his hands: he’ll have people’s lives too.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “Patients with these diseases will be hit hardest by no deal”

  • We need to ensure that criminal prosecutions of the Health Secretary become a reality, if patients suffer personal injury, as a result of criminally negligent government policy.

  • Unless all medical staff, the nation stands up to this catastrophic betrayal of the nation, the cull will continue with impunity!!

  • We can all take comfort in the certainty that Theresa May’ s insulin supply will not be compromised in the event of a no deal Brexit. People will die, who in other circumstances, would have recovered with the appropriate medication or treatment. The families of the rich and influential like Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg, who are driving this, have the influence, means and connections to be untroubled by these details. What sort of government risks its citizens’ health and lives in this way, whether they are rich or poor, powerful or not?

  • If this had been known before the referendum, or publicised if it WAS known, the result would almost certainly have been a majority for Remain, possibly a very large one. All campaigns urging a second referendum should give it as much publicity as they can; how many people suffering from the relevant conditions even KNOW about this?