Pharmacists warn that drug shortages are putting patients at risk

Shortages of some medicines are putting patients at risk, pharmacists have warned.

A poll of 1,562 UK pharmacists for the Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than half (54%) believed patients had been at risk in the past six months due to shortages.

A number of patients have had difficulty accessing some medicines in recent months, sometimes having to go to multiple pharmacies to find their prescription or having to return to their GP to be prescribed an alternative.

The problem came to the fore when a shortage of hormone replacement drugs led to an outcry earlier this year.

Since June, the government has sent out a number of “medicine supply notices”, which highlight shortages.

Some of these include: painkillers used in labor; medicines for mouth ulcers; migraine treatment; an antihistamine; a drug used by patients with prostate cancer and endometriosis; an antipsychotic drug used among patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; a type of inhaler and a certain brand of insulin.

The Pharmaceutical Journal also reported that ministers on August 3 called on hospitals to “save stock” of an anti-clotting drug used to treat strokes.

Some pharmacists have expressed concern about switching patients on certain medications to alternatives.

Ways to ease the shortage

Community pharmacists told the Pharmaceutical Journal this month that shortages of the osteoporosis drug alendronic acid contributed to medication errors when alternatives were prescribed.

The journal reported that talks have begun with pharmacy managers and the government about ways to ease the shortage.

Explainer: Why is there a shortage of HRT?

A pharmacist at a children’s hospital in England said problems with variable supply of nutritional products are putting patients at risk.

“We had to ration it, and this has potentially put patients at risk of vitamin deficiency,” she said.

Another hospital pharmacist raised concerns about drugs not being available at the end of a patient’s life.

They told the journal: “There was no alternative for a patient who had to deal with an additional symptom in their last days of life due to a lack of available treatment.”

Patient safety

Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, told the journal: “We are increasingly concerned about drug supply issues and the very serious impact this is having on both community pharmacy teams and their patients.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We take patient safety extremely seriously and we routinely share information about medicine supply issues directly with the NHS so they can put plans in place to reduce the risk of shortages affecting patients, including offering alternative medication.

“We have well-established procedures for dealing with drug shortages and work closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages and resolve any issues as soon as possible.”

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