Coronavirus: NHS bosses call for rise in UK drug manufacturing

Laboratory test bottles. Photo: Getty

Medical charities and NHS leaders are calling for an increase in the production of drugs in the UK as the coronavirus has laid bare the risk of shortages.

Intensive care medicine, over the counter drugs and oxygen are among products in short supply, alongside the critical need for personal protective equipment.

New rationing measures have been put in place by the NHS to ensure hospitals do not run out of essential items.

Both the NHS Confederation and Kidney Care UK say the government needs to focus on increasing manufacturing on home turf.

Academics and pharmaceutical industry bodies also support the idea.

The Guardian reported that Layla McCay, director of International Relations at the NHS Confederation, which represents 500 NHS bodies and leads the Brexit Health Alliance of health groups during negotiations with the EU, said the UK needed to play “its full part” in the global supply of medicines.

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Highlighting the strain, NHS England told hospital trusts last month to limit dialysis. One in four COVID-19 patients in intensive care need kidney support.

The majority of all base ingredients for drugs are manufactured in China, which is the start of a long and complex supply chain.

Those ingredients are blended and packaged into medicines.

India is the biggest supplier to the UK – but some are made in Europe.

Meanwhile only about 20% to 25% are made in the UK, according to the British Generic Manufacturers’ Association (BGMA).

Some companies are already implementing this shift.

Generics manufacturer Accord Healthcare announced plans to move production of hydroxychloroquine, which has been trialled as a treatment for coronavirus, to prevent UK shortages. It is usually used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus and is currently being used in three UK trials across primary, secondary and intensive care.