• What's Behind the UK's Drug Shortage?

News & Views

What's Behind the UK's Drug Shortage?

Oct 11 2019

According to a recent poll by Chemist + Druggist, most pharmacists in the UK fear a nationwide shortage of popular drugs and medicines, including painkillers, antibiotics and contraceptives. The survey drew on responses from more than 400 community pharmacy professionals, with the majority admitting to experiencing shortages in 36 widely used pharmaceutical products over the past six months.

Thomas Cox, a representative from Chemist + Druggist says, "The findings reflect the daily struggle community pharmacy teams across the UK face to source medicines for their patients, with the overwhelming majority of our readers telling us the problem is getting worse."

HRT, contraceptive pills and diabetes drugs among shortage list

Two thirds of pharmacists claimed they experienced regular shortages of contraceptive pills, while 84% recorded shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Around half said stocks of pain killing creams had been depleted, with more than 20% encountering shortages of diabetes drugs. Other drugs in short supply include antidepressants, statins, eye drops, decongestants and wound dressings. As a result, thousands of patients across the UK have left pharmacies empty-handed, despite having a GP prescription.

Of the respondents, around half confessed to spending at least one hour a day attempting to track down vital medicines for patients, including HRT. This has put enormous pressure on pharmacy teams around the country, who claim the mass shortages are caused largely by manufacturing issues.

Experts warn drug shortages are worsening

Dr Farah Jameel, a member of the executive team of the British Medical Association's General Practitioners Committee of England (GPC England), is calling for "urgent action" and warns that the drug shortages are worsening.  

"Practices often won’t know that a drug is in short supply until patients return from the pharmacy, and these extra GP appointments can dramatically add to their already burgeoning workload – as well as distressing patients by delaying their treatment," says Dr Jameel.

"Medicines shortages have always been a problem however since 2015 we have seen a steady increase in the number of lines that are not available year on year," says British pharmacist Kevin Cahill. "This peaked in Nov 2017 with 91 lines unavailable and has stayed around this number since." Cahill warns the shortages are not just becoming more frequent in the UK, but around the world. He blames it largely on an increase in global demand, as well as increases in manufacturing costs and variations in exchange rates.

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