Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 18th May 2021.
T5. Mr Beggs asked the Minister of Health to confirm that requirements in the protocol to follow EU medicines regulations add to bureaucracy and are likely to add to the costs and lack of availability of some medicines, thus adversely affecting the entire community, given that, during yesterday’s debate on unfettered access to medicines, it was striking that some of the commentary remained stuck in the 2016 Brexit debate rather than focusing on how we can work collectively to avoid the adverse effects on our health service. (AQT 1325/17-22)
I thank the Member. As we debated yesterday, medicines and medical devices supplied through the NHS bring cost advantages to the Northern Ireland health service, and their distribution through our controlled free NHS and GP prescriptions cannot threaten the EU single market. Given that everyone in Northern Ireland will be adversely affected by increased pharmacy costs, there has to be a realisation about the implication of what that means for additional bureaucracy, the time frames and the supply chains that have to be put in place for the delivery of those medicines.
Will the Minister confirm that the additional bureaucracy and unnecessary costs will be a burden on his budget and ultimately mean that less money can be spent on our waiting lists and the other pressing issues that we face?
I thank the Member for his supplementary question. As was debated yesterday afternoon about how we now have to look to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) regarding where medicines are licensed and their uses, it puts an additional strain on the small team that works with my Chief Pharmaceutical Officer on how we assess what medicines are available and on the additional bureaucracy and management that is now needed because we are in two jurisdictions. While the grace period is useful, it is coming to an end, which puts an additional workload on how we seek to ensure that those medicine supplies and medical devices are there for the long term and not just through the grace period.