PATIENTS across Cumbria are being urged not to stockpile drugs ahead of Brexit.

It comes amid reports of a medicines shortage as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

One Cumbrian pharmacist told the News & Star that they are struggling to obtain some common drugs - including those used to treat epilepsy.

However he said it was unclear whether this was due to Brexit, or other issues.

He stressed that stockpiling is not the answer, and instead urged patients to order repeat prescriptions slightly earlier than usual.

Nat Mitchell, from JWW Allison in Cockermouth, said: "There have always been problems with shortages.

"At one time or another there's always a list of drugs we are struggling to get.

"But we've reached a situation where very standard are becoming difficult to get from a lot of suppliers.

"The national press are trying to get pharmacists to say it's down to Brexit. We can't say that, but the uncertainty isn't helping."

The Department of Health and Social Care insists there is no evidence that Brexit is affecting drug supply.

In Cockermouth, the town's Castlegate & Derwent Surgery has told pharmacists it will now take three working days to produce prescriptions.

Allison's are therefore asking patients to order repeats when they have seven days of medication left.

Mr Mitchell said this gives them enough time to source drugs that are hard to obtain.

Asked which medications are affected, he said: "Naproxen is one of them. That's the next step up from ibuprofen. We can't get that for love nor money, and if you can the price is sky high so we end up subsidising the NHS."

He added that others include some epilepsy drugs, antidepressants and water tablets (diuretics) - with some starting to filter back through the supply chain, but others remaining difficult to obtain.

Mr Mitchell said there are a lot of factors that affect the supply chain, and it is very frustrating for pharmacists.

"The drug market is like the stock market. They are a commodity," he said.

"A lot of pharmacists feel that some of the wholesalers are playing a clever game. We have a drug tariff- a pre-agreed amount we get paid by the NHS for each drug.

"When they become more difficult to get hold of, there is a discretionary agreement that we get paid a bit more. Not as much as we are paying for them, but it is more than the normal tariff. When that list comes out, suddenly some of these drugs become available."

Mr Mitchell said there is evidence that some patients have been stockpiling ahead of Brexit, with some going abroad to obtain extra supplies.

He added that there have also been some supply issues due to the closure of a major manufacturing plant.

But he said: "Patients are asking us questions. The advice is not to stockpile.

"Instead we are asking people to order prescriptions in enough time. The general advice is seven days, but that's been the case for a long time.

"Patients do not always adhere to it, but it's important that they do. If they don't and there's a shortage, it doesn't give us time to source the drugs they need.

"It's concerning for us. It's difficult for GPs too. We are trying not to pass that on to patients.

"We are empowering patients to take some control and make sure they order prescriptions in enough time.

"We will do the running around behind the scenes for them, sorting out any problems."

In terms of Brexit, Mr Mitchell said the Government is reassuring pharmacists that contingency plans are in place.

"It definitely has panicked people. The concerns we have on the ground is that a lot of the contingency plans that are in place rely on the goodwill of pharmaceutical manufacturers, but this is big business. They are ruthless. It doesn't fill us with confidence."

The Government says it has taken steps to ensure enough medicines will be available when Britain leaves the EU.

As a first line of defence, the pharmaceutical industry has been asked to ensure a minimum of six weeks additional supplies of prescription-only medicines and pharmacy medicines - over and above existing buffer stocks - by March 29.

It says the majority of pharmaceutical companies are already actively stockpiling.

The Department of Health and Social Care has also placed orders through the NHS Supply Chain.

Additional warehouse space has been made available for these supplies, with refrigerated and controlled drug storage.

The Government is also taking steps to ensure vital products continue to move freely into the UK after March 29, with alternative routes identified.

In the meantime, it insists there is no evidence that Brexit is to blame for existing supply issues.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We have not seen any evidence of current medicine supply issues linked to EU exit preparations.

“We have well established processes to manage and mitigate the small number of supply problems that may arise at any one time due to manufacturing or distribution issues and this has always been the case – every day over two million prescription items are successfully dispensed in England.

“We continue to work closely with industry and partners to ensure patients receive the medicines they need.”

Cumbria's NHS bosses say they are preparing for Brexit, in line with national advice - but understand some patients are feeling anxious.

David Rogers, medical director for NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “Planning for Brexit is being led by the Department of Health and Social Care.

"Locally we are working with our partners to ensure we are all sighted on any potential risks.

"We are being told there is no need for any stockpiling of over the counter or prescription medicine or devices or equipment, and no need for GPs to provide prescriptions that cover a longer period.

"Understandably some people are very anxious about potential disruption to supply but there is considerable planning to support patients being done at a national level.

"Some of our staff locally are EU citizens and we are aware this may be a difficult time for them. We value their contribution to health and care here in Cumbria, losing those staff would be a challenge for the NHS and many of our care home and home care providers.”