ALL this Brexit business is painful, isn’t it? Enough to give you a searing headache, sky high blood pressure, and leave you feeling nauseous. But here’s the question – would you be able to get the medicine to treat the symptoms?

The Government’s Department of Health and Social Care tells me there’s no evidence that the supply of prescription drugs is being affected by the protracted debate over the UK’s departure from the European Union. Well, I beg to differ – and I suspect you will too.

Shortly before I left on a working trip to Los Angeles a couple of weeks back, I was in the queue at a pharmacy in Darlington and an elderly woman ahead of me was being told, apologetically, that the she couldn’t have the medication she required. There were no supplies left and she’d have to try elsewhere.

When we got back from America, my wife had just about run out of her HRT pills and went to our local pharmacy. Same story. None left – here’s a list of other chemists to try. Fortunately, Sainsbury’s had one box left.

So how big is the problem? What’s causing it? What’s being done about it? And what advice are people being given?

These were the questions I put to the press office at the North of England Commissioning Support Unit. They put me in touch with the “best person to speak to” – the Senior Communications and Engagement officer for NHS England and the North East, who asked for the questions in writing.

An email came back saying he’d passed it on to the press office, but they in turn sent another email saying I’d be better off speaking to the Department of Health and Social Care in London and gave me a web-link to their contact details.

Feeling a giddy by this stage, I took a couple of Paracetamol and pressed on.

There might be a shortage of NHS doctors, but there doesn’t appear to be a lack of press officers – there was a long list at the end of the web-link under the headings of NHS, Community Care, Public and Global Health, EU Exit, Campaigns, Creative Content, and Planning. I took my pick and a media and campaigns executive answered the phone. Guess what? He told me to put my questions in writing and, no, I wouldn’t be able to interview anyone – it would have to be a prepared statement.

I felt the vein in my neck bulging as my blood pressure rose but I resisted reaching for the medicine cabinet – I could see an overdose coming on.

An hour later, a statement came back attributed to a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman: “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.”

I replied to say that I’d still like to put my questions to someone, but no reply has been   forthcoming.

I’d hit a brick wall so I decided to bypass all the press officers and take a more direct route. Dr David Russell is a respected, long-serving Darlington GP, who is also prescribing lead for the local Clinical Commissioning Group.

“There is, without any doubt, a very serious issue with the supply of prescription drugs,” he told me.

He explained, for example, that Naproxen – the most commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine – hasn’t been available in recent weeks.

“It has been happening more and more over the past few years,” said Dr Russell. “It’s a hard enough job being a GP without having to deal with increasing shortages or unavailability of prescription drugs, which invariably leads to more expensive alternatives having to be prescribed.”

Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, is on record as saying that there are a number of reasons for supply shortages and “concerns around a no-deal Brexit are likely to exacerbate those ongoing issues”.

And one senior North-East pharmacist, with 36 years’ experience, also believes that fears over a no-deal Brexit are at the heart of the problem, with suspicions that manufacturers and pharmacies are stockpiling drugs, leading to inflated prices.

She gave the example of a blood pressure drug called Losartan, which has been out of stock for more than a month. The payment to pharmacies from the Government for 28 tablets was £1.06 while the wholesale price pharmacists were having to pay had gone up to £15. Last week, new price concessions from the Government increased the payment for Losartan to £6.95 but still left pharmacies with a huge price gap.

“It’s a chronic issue – the worst I have ever known in my career,” she said.

So perhaps the press officers from the Department of Health and Social Care should arrange a bus trip up the A1 to the North-East for the evidence they need that there’s a problem. Come to think of it, they might need a couple of buses.