NHS in crisis as Lois, 23, ships in medication from India

A cystic fibrosis patient has been forced to ship in crucial medication from India - so she can eat due to national shortages. Lois Ffrench, aged 23, was unable to get her regular prescription of Creon - which she has to take with every meal - since April, so was skipping meals.

It meant she was forced to ration her medicine which allows her to digest food – and says she had to eat less and lost eight pounds as a result in just weeks. Despite calling "every pharmacy" in her area and hospitals, she wasn't able to get her hands on any.

A family friend in India has now sent over medication this week, and she has finally found a pharmacy in the UK able to dispense a prescription. She says the long-term repercussions of going without the crucial medication would have put her life at risk.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition which causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system, causing lung infections and issues with digesting food. To aid in food digestion, cystic fibrosis sufferers use an enzyme medication to break down food for absorption – Creon is commonly prescribed for this purpose in the UK.

Lois said: “It left me extremely stressed – and I'm ill now because of how stressed I've been over the last month. The Creon digests my food as my pancreas doesn’t produce the necessary enzymes. It doesn't seem like anyone in the NHS knows about this shortage, there are hundreds of thousands of cystic fibrosis adults, kids and babies that use this vital medication we all need just to live every day.

“I've tried not really eating – I use prescribed shakes of 10 per meal so I started having smaller meals. I eat three for breakfast and seven for lunch, so I’ve had to halve my intake. I can feel that I’m losing weight already and it’s making me ill.

"I was finally able to get some by putting in an online order, cancelling it, and then taking the barcode to a pharmacy in Cheltenham which I'd called before and had confirmed they had it. A family member also got a friend to ship some over from India - it was the cheapest country where we could find it, it was £45 for about a months supply."

Customer advisor Lois says she first heard about the shortage in April during a routine annual visit to an NHS cystic fibrosis team. She says she was told her usual medication may be unavailable but was told she should be able to get the same drug in lower doses or under a different brand name. However, she says when she next went to stock up on 18 April, there were none available in the lower dose. And when she tried to access the drug under a different brand name, she found there was still none available.

Lois says despite calling “every pharmacy” in the area nowhere stocked the vital medication – and hospital supplies are solely for inpatients. Thankfully she's now restocked the prescription but says she shouldn't have had to order it from abroad.

"It's frustrating - I shouldn't have to order it from India," said Lois. “I don’t understand how it’s even possible to have a national shortage of something so important. What can I do – I wasn't able to eat and was worried I would have to go to hospital or A&E. There’s going to be hundreds of thousands of cystic fibrosis kids in hospital with malnutrition because we’re having to ration our food.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are aware of supply issues affecting Creon and are working with the manufacturer to help resolve them. These supply issues do not only affect the UK. We have issued comprehensive guidance to healthcare professionals about these supply issues, which provide advice on how to manage patients whilst there is disruption to supply. This guidance is being kept under review and updates will be made, as necessary. We advise any patient with concerns to speak to their clinician."

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