28 Mar 2024

Exploring medicines shortages in the UK

In recent months, reports of medicines shortages seem rarely to have been out of the news, and a recent report by The Guardian highlighted a worrying trend – medicine shortages in the UK have doubled in the past two years.  

While shortages of HRT and ADHD medicine have captured the most public attention, with the One Show recently featuring a report on ADHD medication shortages, patients across the country have faced worries around certain medicines used in cancer patients, tablets for epileptic seizures, and GLP-1 agonists for Type 2 diabetes, among others. A 2023 Community Pharmacy England survey found that 92% of pharmacies were dealing with medicine supply issues daily, an increase from 67% in 2022. Whilst this is clearly a time-consuming issue for teams, it is also a question of patient safety, and it was additionally reported that 87% of pharmacy teams worried that patient health was at risk. 

Medicines shortages are a global issue, with a recent European Association of Hospital Pharmacists survey reporting that 95% of hospital pharmacists across Europe were experiencing shortages. This survey highlighted antimicrobial agents, painkillers and anaesthetic agents as being those in most frequent shortage, leading to delays in care, suboptimal treatment, and, in some cases, cancellation of care. The problems in the EU have been attributed to the war in Ukraine disrupting supply chains, attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, and an increase in regulatory paperwork in some supply chains due to Brexit. 

However, the UK faces some extra, very particular, challenges on top of this. The impact of Brexit has led to higher costs for the NHS buying medicines, for example. Industry has also identified the government’s voluntary scheme to cap NHS spending on branded medicines, and related levies as making the UK an unattractive place to do business for manufacturers and suppliers. 

There are clearly numerous, complex factors – both global and national – at play, but ultimately the impact is felt most keenly by patients, and those treating them. Indeed, helping people to get the medicines they need is at the core of pharmacy practice - a fact highlighted by Professor Claire Anderson when announcing a new project led by the RPS to help tackle the impact of medicines shortages. At the core of this work will be an advisory group chaired by Dr Bruce Warner. The group will convene and work with stakeholders and experts from primary and secondary care, the pharmaceutical industry, government, regulators and patients to provide recommendations for addressing the factors impacting medicines shortages, as well as – crucially – steps to lessen their impact on patient care. 

The RPS will be holding online workshops where you will be able to help inform this work and find out more – to join, see the link below. 

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