Pharmacists issue 'beyond critical' warning as medicine shortages becoming 'daily occurrence'

Leading pharmacists have urged the Government to 'sort out the UK's fragile medicines supply system'
Leading pharmacists have urged the Government to 'sort out the UK's fragile medicines supply system' -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

Health experts have called on the Government to "sort out" the UK's medicine supply system amid a rise in shortages that is increasingly seeing patients forced to play "pharmacy bingo", travelling from shop to shop in order to find potentially life-saving treatments.

Some patients are even being forced to "ration" their medicines because of supply problems, Community Pharmacy England said. It comes as a new poll revealed that medicine shortages are becoming a "daily occurrence" in pharmacies across England and are "wreaking havoc" on patients, with treatments for diabetes, ADHD and epilepsy among the medicines that have been in short supply so far this year.

The survey, carried out across 6,100 pharmacy premises in England, found that 99% of pharmacy team members said they are suffering supply issues at least weekly, while 72% said they were facing "multiple issues a day". Nearly all (97%) said that their patients are being inconvenienced as a result of medicine supply issues, while 79% said patient health is being put at risk as a result, the PA news agency reports.

Meanwhile, 98% said they had issued more 'owings' or 'I owe yous' to patients as they are only able to supply part of their prescription. And 94% of pharmacy owners said that their teams now spend more time sourcing medicines compared to last year – with almost three quarters of pharmacy staff saying they spend one to two hours every day trying to obtain medicine stock or alternatives.

Experts have called for a review of the medicine supply chain based on the findings. Community Pharmacy England chief executive Janet Morrison described the challenges being faced by pharmacies as "beyond critical", with the daily impact on patients leading to "frustration, anxiety, and affecting their health".

She added: "For some patients, not having access to the medicines they need could lead to very serious consequences, even leaving them needing to visit A&E. For pharmacies, ensuring everyone can access the medicines they need has become an ongoing battle, putting immense pressures on pharmacy teams and businesses."

And Mark Dayan, from the Nuffield Trust think tank, said of the poll: "Nearly every available indicator shows that since 2021 we have experienced a once unthinkable level of medicine shortages again and again. The crisis jumps between products and conditions with no sign of showing down. This important survey demonstrates the impact on pharmacists and patients more clearly than anything we have seen before."

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, added that the survey highlights the "precarious nature" of the UK's medicine supply. "We urgently need the Government to sort out the UK's fragile medicines supply system, so that pharmacies can do their job and patients can get their lifesaving medicines in time," he said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Supply issues can arise for a wide range of reasons and are not specific to the UK. Our priority is to mitigate risks posed by those issues and to help ensure that patients continue to get the treatments they need. Thankfully, most issues can be managed with minimal impact to patients."