Warning that NHS medicines shortage is putting lives at risk as pharmacists say crisis is


Medicine shortages are ‘worse than ever’ in Britain and are now putting lives at risk, pharmacists warned today. 

Data shows 106 commonly taken drugs are currently out of stock across the UK — double the number recorded in January 2022. 

Over the past two years, supply problems have hit crucial antibiotics and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs, as well as type 2 diabetes and cancer medicines.

Now a treatment for controlling epileptic seizures has also been added to the list. 

Experts warned supply problems are forcing some patients to switch to other brands and, in extreme cases, leaving cancer patients without medicines needed to control the spread of their disease.  

Over the past two years, supply problems have hit crucial antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs, type 2 diabetes medicines and cancer medications. Now a treatment for controlling epileptic seizures has also been added to the list

Over the past two years, supply problems have hit crucial antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs, type 2 diabetes medicines and cancer medications. Now a treatment for controlling epileptic seizures has also been added to the list

According to the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) — the trade body representing drug manufacturers and suppliers — supply issues affected 96 products as of December 18. 

While this is down on the 111 recorded at the end of October, 10 drugs that weren’t hit with supply problems in the autumn have since been added to the list.

And the total is double the 52 medicines with supply issues logged in January 2022. 

Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, warned patients had been forced to go without medicines, increasing their risk of the cancer recurring or spreading.

She told The Guardian: ‘Last year many people shared with us, via Breast Cancer Now’s helpline, that they’d been facing difficulties accessing their hormone treatment including letrozole, anastrozole and tamoxifen, causing them huge worry and anxiety. 

‘Trying to track down a treatment by travelling to a number of different pharmacies is an added burden for patients at an already difficult time.

‘It may also sometimes be that certain brands of drugs are out of stock and people may have to switch to another brand or different drug. 

‘In the worst case someone may have a period of time without the medication, a drug which could help reduce the risk of their breast cancer coming back or spreading.’

Meanwhile, Douglas Twenefour, the head of care at Diabetes UK, told the newspaper: ‘The ongoing shortages of many GLP-1 medications are having serious implications for many people with type 2 diabetes and are still a major concern. 

‘With these shortages likely to last for at least the rest of this year, this will have a significant impact on whether many people with type 2 diabetes can access the best course of treatment for them.’

EU health chiefs have attributed supply chain shortages to the war in the Ukraine and Covid pandemic.

Chaos in the Red Sea, a vital shipping corridor for good, could bring fresh instability to the supply of drugs, experts have warned. 

Selling medicines to the NHS is also becoming increasingly unprofitable, with manufacturers seeing costs soar in the face of rising prices for raw ingredients.

But there are caps on how much the NHS will pay for medicines, making international firms are less willing to sell to the UK. 

At the end of last year, the Government raised business taxes on sales of branded drugs from 14 per cent to nearly 26.5 per cent, meaning some firms are threatening to pull out of the UK market completely, according to reports. 

Janet Morrison, the chief executive of Community Pharmacy England, told the Guardian that supply problems have been ongoing for months but are now ‘worse than ever’. 

She said shortages had become ‘worryingly normal’, with pharmacy teams spending an average of 11 extra hours a week tracking down vital medicines their patients need. 

She added: ‘This all causes worrying delays for patients, and in worst cases it can lead to a deterioration of their health.’

A 2023 survey by Community Pharmacy England found 92 per cent of pharmacy teams were dealing with medicines supply issues daily, up from the 67 per cent logged the year before. 

Almost nine in ten (87 per cent) team members believed patient health was being put at risk.  

But reports have highlighted that medicine shortages have been increasing for over 20 years.

Older medications are often subject to shortages because prices drop once a laboratory’s original patent expires and other companies can make generics. 

Pharmaceutical companies also do not keep stocks of these older medicines that are much less profitable than newer therapies. A small disruption during manufacturing, for instance, can lead to a shortage. 

The issue, however, is not suffered by the UK alone.  

In October, one of France‘s pharmacy unions, the USPO, called for more transparency as well, adding that drug shortages were becoming a permanent problem.

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides also told MEPs in October that addressing the medicine shortages was a top political priority in Europe, adding that there was a new alert system and shortage prevention plans, as these are problems impacting multiple countries.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘There are a number of reasons that a limited number of medicines may be unavailable, such as manufacturing difficulties, supply of raw materials, sudden demand spikes or issues with distribution.

‘The department has well-established procedures to deal with such issues and works closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages, and resolve any problems as soon as they arise.’

They added: ‘This includes working closely with the NHS so they can put suggested plans in place to mitigate the risk of the shortage impacting patients.’



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