The government has said epilepsy medicines will not be included in plans to allow pharmacists to ration medicines in the case of a no-deal Brexit, the Sunday Times has reported.
In December, the government set out plans to avoid shortages of medicines, which it called a “serious shortage protocol”. This would be in the event that no Brexit deal is made and the UK leaves the EU without one.
As part of this plan, the government would allow pharmacists to ration medicines in order to avoid extreme shortages. This includes changing prescriptions without having to contact GPs first.
Additionally, pharmacists would be able to supply a reduced quantity of a medicine, a different dose, a therapeutic equivalent or a generic equivalent.
Epilepsy Action chief executive Philip Lee said: “We are pleased to hear the government has pledged to exempt epilepsy patients from its contingency plans to deal with post-Brexit medicine supplies as reported in the Sunday Times. However, there still remains some uncertainty around access to epilepsy medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“There is strong evidence that changing or stopping medication for many people with epilepsy can cause breakthrough seizures or make seizures worse. These are major issues for people with epilepsy and can have a significant impact on all areas of life, from education to employment. For example, a single seizure can cause someone to lose their driving licence for a year. At worst, it could be fatal.”
After the “serious shortage protocol” plans were published by The Times in December, an open letter was sent to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock with concerns about the plans. This was put together on behalf of a number of epilepsy charities and organisations. They included SUDEP Action, Epilepsy Action, Young Epilepsy, the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) and Epilepsy Specialist Nurses Association (ESNA), among others.
The letter explained that sudden or unsupported medicine changes, or stopping of medicines pose a risk for people with epilepsy. These can increase the number or severity of seizures in some people, and in severe cases can result in fatal accidents or sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).
The letter also stressed that the best treatment for a person with epilepsy should be worked out between a doctor and patient. “No change to a prescription should be made without checking with the prescribing clinician and the patent,” it said.
Epilepsy Action responded to the original “serious shortage protocol” in December. The organisation said: “It is right and proper that the government should prepare for all possible outcomes in the Brexit process, including no-deal.
“However, the suggestion of giving pharmacists emergency powers to alter prescriptions in the event of a no-deal, without discussing this with prescribing clinicians, is very concerning.”
Epilepsy Action explained the importance of taking medicines consistently and as prescribed by an epilepsy specialist. The organisation stressed that some people take more than one epilepsy medicine, and finding the right combination needs oversight from an experienced clinician. Epilepsy Action added that switching between different forms of the same medicines can also be an issue with some types of epilepsy medicine for some people.
Mr Lee added: “We will continue to work with other epilepsy organisations on this important issue. As part of this we will be seeking further assurances from the government that people with epilepsy will continue to be able to access necessary medicines and treatments after Brexit, deal or no deal.”
The Department of Health and Social Care explained that the protocol would be developed in collaboration with doctors. “In the unlikely event of a shortage of any medicine, it is vital that patients continue to receive the high level of treatment they expect.”