UK Condemns Parallel Trade

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A recent report from the UK?s All Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) has attributed shortages of prescription medicines in the country to parallel trade and is calling for urgent action.

A recent report from the UK’s All Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) has attributed shortages of prescription medicines in the country to parallel trade and is calling for urgent action. In particular, the APPG has asked the UK government to consider whether certain goods should be exempt from the European law concerning the free movement of goods across EU borders.

The report details the results of an inquiry into drug shortages that the APPG began in November 2011. The inquiry investigated the causes of the shortages, which have plagued the UK for four years, the problems they have caused, the effectiveness of efforts to tackle the problem and potential solutions.

According to the APPG, the reasons for the shortages are complex and a result of many factors; however, the export of medicines intended for the UK market to other EU countries is a principal factor. Parallel trade is legal in Europe and although the APPG doe snot object to the practice, it is concerned about the effect on patients and pharmacists.

The UK has sought to address to mitigate the problem of shortages previously. Among other mechanisms, members of the supply chain have implemented quota arrangements, while the Department of Health has updated the obligations under which supply chain participants must act. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has also pledged to address the shortages, but a lack of market data means that it is difficult to know exactly which products are in short supply and who is exporting them.


The report also added, “We have detected an air of resignation among those responsible. The problem of shortages has been dismissed variously as either inevitable, or as having been inherited from the previous Government. The Department of Health has also seemed reluctant to take action without having hard evidence...”

Several recommendations have been made by APPG. As well as asking the government to consider using an exemption on free trade movement, the group has also suggested that the government consider extending current legislation requiring the maintenance of continued supply to short-line wholesalers and other entities in the supply chain.

Other suggestions include:

  • The MHRA needs to enforce obligations on those with licenses to conduct wholesale activities.
  • There needs to be improved and more regular collaboration between the Department of Health, the MHRA and supply chain representatives.
  • The government should see what can be learned from the French government’s recent proposal that curtails the export of medicines.
  • The paucity of market information needs to be addressed urgently.
  • Quota arrangements need to be simpler, less burdensome for pharmacists, more transparent and more sensitive to local variations in demand. A task force should be established to deal with this issue.