No-Deal Brexit Planning for Drug Shortages Challenged in Court

(Bloomberg) -- A non-profit group that says Brexit is a “terrible idea” is trying to bring an 11th-hour lawsuit over the U.K. government’s plans for drug supplies if the country leaves the European Union without a deal.

The Good Law Project asked a London court Tuesday for permission to challenge the government proposal to let pharmacists give patients alternative medications to those prescribed by their doctor in some cases, if a no-deal Brexit leads to serious drug shortages.

A victory would show “that there are serious doubts over the lawfulness of what the government says is a key plank of its post ‘No-Deal’ planning for medicine shortages,” the group said on Twitter ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. “Could any responsible government ‘No Deal’ against such a background?”

The lawsuit comes hours after Parliament seized control of the Brexit process from Prime Minister Theresa May, allowing it to vote on a series of alternative strategies for leaving the EU. The U.K. could face an exit from the EU as soon April 12 unless an agreement is found.

Concerns over food and medicine supplies have centered on blockages at ports amid fears that added documentation will lead to backlogs as truck drivers wait to clear customs. As the U.K. relies on just-in-time deliveries, fresh food and vegetables imported from the continent may be in short supply. The government has urged supermarkets and drugmakers to stockpile.

Pharmacists will still be able to choose to refer a patient back to the doctor rather than issuing a different drug, the government said in its filings for the case. If the Good Law Project wins, the U.K. “will be left without an important tool” to “address any serious drug shortages arising, including post-Brexit,” it said.

“The premise for this power is that there’s not enough of the critical medicine to go around, so then what do you do?” James Eadie, the government’s lawyer, said in court. The government’s plans aim to prevent a “lottery” over access to drugs, he said.

Shortages “might arise in days,” depending on events, the Good Law Project’s lawyer Richard Drabble said in court on Tuesday, as he applied for permission to bring the lawsuit. A pharmacist may “know nothing about the medical history of the patient” and yet be able to substitute their drugs, he said.

Judge Michael Supperstone said Tuesday that he’ll rule on the group’s application on Friday, March 29 -- the same date that the U.K. was set to leave the EU, until an extension was granted last week.

The Good Law Project is run by Jolyon Maugham, the lawyer behind a landmark ruling allowing the U.K. to change its mind on Brexit.

The government’s plans were made in a way that was “so rushed and inadequate as to render it unlawful,” the group said in its filings.

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