Drug Shortages Experienced in 80% of NHS Trusts

Eighty per cent of sixty National Health Service (NHS) trusts in England and Wales are facing “unacceptable” delays in locating drugs for patients, freedom of information requests by Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies have exposed.

About 70 to 80 drugs are still on the at risk list, including lifesaving drugs for serious diseases, such as cancer, heart conditions and Alzheimer’s, as comparable merchants continue to benefit regardless of the fact that patients are suffering as a consequence, with some being admitted to hospital after the failure to attain the correct drugs resulted in them requiring hospital treatment.

Huw Irranca-Davies called on the UK coalition government to take a tougher position on the problem as, he stressed, the approach taken so far isn’t working.  “Patients are having to wait weeks for drugs and it’s not good enough.”

He argues that medicine shortages are actually getting worse, in spite of a quota system operated by drug manufacturers to offer extra flexibility and limit pharmacists from submitting unnecessary orders, and frequent efforts by the government and other parties to repair the issue over the past three or four years.

Some drug makers have claimed that they are currently manufacturing more than 150% of what is required, while chemists and doctors are spending an average of five hours per week calling around to try and find medication, and some are even spending up to 20 hours per week on the phone, Irranca-Davies states.

Health Minister Simon Burns commented last month that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are presently looking over the patient service obligations which have been introduced by other European member states, but noted that the government “is cautious about increasing the regulatory burden on the supply chain.”

Laying the blame

Last week the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW) declared that the Department of Health needs to “stop sticking its head in the sand” surrounding the problem of medicines shortages, and in May, the All-Party Pharmacy Group’s inquiry called on the MHRA to “improve its efforts to enforce obligations on those with licenses to conduct wholesale activities,” and to “consider carefully whether it is in the best interests of patients to see further growth in the number of Wholesale Dealer Licenses.”

Earlier this week, an article in The Daily Telegraph laid a lot of the responsibility for shortages on pharmaceutical companies, claiming that the quota system is to blame for declining drug stocks.

“The current restriction in supply imposed by drug companies is harming the public and must be addressed urgently,” commented Professor John Parkes, the chief executive of Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire PCT in The Daily Telegraph.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) however was quick to contest this, saying that “quotas are a legitimate means of ensuring that UK patients receive the medicines they need.”

Sticking plaster

Acknowledging that the current arrangement is “a sticking plaster and not a cure,” the ABPI stressed that it is vital to reduce unnecessary orders, quoting occasions where “manufacturers have received orders for medicines which represent more than the entire UK’s requirement for one particular medicine in one go.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed in an article by PharmaTimes that “the government does maintain a buffer stock of certain essential medicines that can be released in emergencies,” and noted that they will “take any action necessary in the event of disruption to supply and distribution of medicines that causes serious risk to patients.”


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