Medicine shortages are ‘worse than ever’ with rising numbers of common drugs being so hard to get hold of the Government is forced to pay extra.
Eighty are now so low in stock the Department of Health is, in some cases, paying a price 45 per cent higher than usual and racking up thousands in added costs.
Among them are blood pressure pills and anti-inflammatories, and some patients are being told to go back to their doctor to ask for something different.
Global demand, the cost of ingredients and new regulations are all possible explanations for pharmacies’ struggle to get hold of certain meds.
And there is disagreement over whether uncertainty about Brexit is making the situation worse.
Pharmacists warn medicine shortages are forcing them to pay extra to get hold of common medicines, with one expert claiming supply problems are the worst they’ve ever been
More than two million prescriptions are filled every day in England, and one expert said fluctuating stock levels have ‘been a problem for some time’.
Among the 80 medicines affected in December were blood pressure drug furosemide, antidepressant fluoxetine and anti-inflammatory naproxen.
Naproxen was recently in such short supply the cost rose to £6.49, £2 more than the NHS last agreed to pay for it – a rise of 45 per cent, according to one expert.
Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said he had never seen so many common drugs affected by shortages.
He said: ‘The items are out of stock and unavailable. Patients are having to wait.
‘We’re having to send some patients back to the GP to get a different prescription, because we just can’t fill them.’
Another explanation for the shortage is the NHS driving down how much it’s willing to pay for drugs, making the UK less attractive to manufacturers.
Gareth Jones, from the National Pharmacy Association, told the BBC: ‘Uncertainty over Brexit appears to be a significant factor.’
Martin Sawer, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association, said people might be stockpiling medicines.
‘Some businesses could be speculating on Brexit,’ he added. ‘That’s the nature of the market.’
Sandra Gidley, a former Liberal Democrat MP who is chair of the English Pharmacy Board of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, told BBC Radio 4’s Today that people should get their prescriptions to pharmacists in time, but should not stockpile.
She added: ‘This has been a problem for some time.
LEADING INSULIN MANUFACTURER STOCKPILES AHEAD OF BREXIT
Britain’s main supplier of insulin said in September it would be stockpiling the medicine in case Brexit disrupts the international supply chain.
Around 4.6million people in the UK are thought to have diabetes and many of them rely on insulin to stay healthy.
Danish healthcare company Novo Nordisk supplies more than half of the UK’s insulin and revealed it would import enough of the vital medication to last four months.
The move came just weeks after medical experts warned millions of diabetics’ health would be at risk if there was an insulin shortage after Brexit.
Novo Nordisk said it is committed to making sure its patients’ health is not affected.
The company said at the time it planned to have built up a 16-week reserve of insulin by this month.
‘There was a group set up by the Department of Health in 2010 to look at these shortages. But it is fair to say that recently the shortages have been worse than ever.
‘Every day, there are items that are on a short-term supply problem, so you might have to wait two or three days for them to come in, but they do come in eventually.
‘The message to patients is: “Please don’t leave picking up your medicines to the last minute”.’
A monthly list of drugs in short supply is managed by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).
BBC analysis revealed the number of medications on the list for December is six times higher than it was three years ago.
During this time the peak period was in November 2017, but there has been a recent rise.
Gareth Jones of the National Pharmacy Association said: ‘Certainly we would advise patients to order medicines in advance if they can do, in case there are any problems. It gives the pharmacist more time to deal with it.
‘For the patient generally they can leave it to the pharmacist, who will do everything they can to source the supply.’
Ms Gidley added that she did not believe Brexit was contributing to the problem.
She said: ‘Brexit isn’t a factor.
‘The situation with Brexit is that the Government have recognised that there could be potential supply problems and they have been asking manufacturers to keep in a buffer stock so that if there are freight problems, trouble with customs, patients will still get their drugs.
‘Unfortunately, what’s been happening on social media over Christmas is that people have been putting two and two together and assuming that this is because of Brexit.
‘The pharmaceutical supply chain is a very complex subject. There are global issues at play here.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: ‘The Department has 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.
‘We continue to work closely with industry and partners to ensure patients receive the medicines they need and pharmacies are reimbursed fairly.
‘The vast majority of medicines are not subject to supply problems and every day over two million prescription items are successfully dispensed in England.’
WHICH MEDICINES ARE IN SHORT SUPPLY?
The Government agreed to pay higher prices for the following medications in December because they had become more difficult to get hold of. The list below is shorter than the 80 specific prescriptions included on the list because many exceptions are for different sized packets or separate formulations of the same drugs.
- Brimonidine 0.2% eye drops
- Buprenorphine sublingual tablets sugar free
- Citalopram oral drops sugar free
- Diamorphine powder for solution for injection ampoules
- Glyceryl trinitrate pump spray
- Hydroxocobalamin solution Ibandronic acid
- Latanoprost eye drops
- Levetiracetam oral solution Lofepramine
- Sodium valproate
Source: Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee