Urgent warning over shortages of life-saving drugs: Damning report reveals patients are at risk because of Britain’s ‘broken’ medicine supply chain… so are stocks of YOUR meds running low?

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Sick Britons are facing alarming drug shortages and being made to wait longer for new medicines than our European neighbours, a damning report reveals.

The Government has been urged to carry out a review of the UK’s ‘broken’ medicine supply chain as costs soar and patients are left in pain.

Experts described shortages of the likes of painkillers, antibiotics and epilepsy drugs as a ‘shocking development’ that is also piling pressure GPs and pharmacists.

The research by the Nuffield Trust think tank highlights ‘underlying fragilities’ in the global and UK supply chain following pandemic lockdowns and Brexit.

Its analysis of freedom of information requests and public data reveals the number of notifications from drug companies warning of impending shortages has more than doubled from 648 in 2020 to 1,634 in 2023.

The Department of Health and Social Care had to provide pharmacists with an additional £220million in the year to September to subsidise purchases where there were no drugs left at the usual NHS price.

Prior to 2016 there were rarely more than 20 so-called ‘price concessions’ per month but they peaked at 199 in late 2022 and have remained high ever since.

Meanwhile, Britain has been slower to approve drugs than the EU, analysis suggests.

Between 2022 and 2023, only four drugs authorised by the European Commission (EC) had been approved faster in Britain.

However, 56 were approved after the EC and eight had not been approved at all as of March this year.

The ‘Future for health after Brexit’ report said while problems in the UK were not caused by Brexit, leaving the European Union (EU) has exacerbated them.

This is due to the fall in the value of sterling and the UK being removed from EU supply chains.

Lead author Mark Dayan, from the Nuffield Trust, said: ‘We know many of the problems are global and relate to fragile chains of imports from Asia, squeezed by Covid shutdowns, inflation and global instability.

‘Officials in the UK have put in place a much more sophisticated system to monitor and respond, and used extra payments to try to keep products flowing.

‘But exiting the EU has left the UK with several additional problems – products no longer flow as smoothly across the borders with the EU, and in the long term our struggles to approve as many medicines might mean we have fewer alternatives available.’

The report identifies other unique issues for the UK market, including a change in demand to the medicines prescribed by doctors.

One example used was prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal women, which increased by 40 per cent in 2021/22.

Mr Dayan added: ‘The rise in shortages of vital medicines from rare to commonplace has been a shocking development that few would have expected a decade ago.

‘More and more patients across the UK are experiencing a pharmacist telling them that their medication is not available, it may not be available soon, and it may not be available anywhere nearby. This is also creating a great deal of extra work for both GPs and pharmacists.’

The Government has been urged to carry out a review of the UK’s ‘broken’ medicine supply chain as costs soar and patients are left in pain

Louise Ansari, chief executive at Healthwatch England, warned that ‘shortages of vital medication can have a detrimental impact on people’s condition, and their lives’.

‘We are calling on the Government to carry out a review of the medicine supply chain to ensure medicine safety and resilience,’ she added.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: ‘The medicines supply chain is broken at every level and unless the Department of Health reviews its processes and procedures, we will never achieve the stability that will guarantee patients their prescription when they need it.

‘Pharmacists spend hours every day trying to source medicines for patients.’

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, said medicine shortages ‘have become commonplace’, which is ‘totally unacceptable’.

‘Supply shortages are a real and present danger to those patients who rely on life-saving medicines for their wellbeing,’ he added.

‘Ensuring an adequate supply of medicines is surely a basic function of any modern health system.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘There are around 14,000 licensed medicines and the overwhelming majority are in good supply.

‘Medicine supply issues do not only affect the UK, and we have a range of well-established processes and tools to manage them when they do occur.

‘That’s why most supply issues have been swiftly managed with minimal disruption to patients.

‘Our priority is to ensure patients continue to get the treatments they need, which is why we work with industry, the NHS, and others to ensure patients continue to have access to an alternative treatment until their usual product is back in stock.’

SOURCE

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