Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Drug shortages - who is to blame?

Isn't it annoying when your pharmacy doesn't have enough of your medicine to complete your prescriptions? In most cases this can simply be because their isn't enough stock on the shelves. Perhaps a certain GP has had a run on one particular antibiotic that day or the wholesaler did not receive their delivery.

There are other reasons, though which say more about our current economic climate that poor stock keeping on our behalf.

The pound has been weaker than the euro meaning that it is now profitable to export drugs to mainland Europe. This is a reverse of what has happened for many years where we have imported lots of drugs back from Europe in order to reduce costs. Remember the Greek writing on your tablet boxes? Exporting (which is completely legal) has lead to shortages of some branded drugs for the UK market. As a consequence, the manufacturers impose quotas on pharmacies as to how many of each drug they can order in a month supposedly to curb supply for the export market.

Other drug shortages are less common. At present there is a shortage of isosrbide mononitrate tablets (used to treat angina) across the country. This is because the factory supplying a third of the world's isosorbide mononitrate was forced to shut temporarily to clear away a potentially explosive byproduct! In this case the Scottish Government took the unusual step of offering advice to GP's and pharmacists as to what action to take.

The end result for me and many of my pharmacy colleagues is hours a week spent on the phone trying to source drugs for real patients with genuine prescriptions. At Barnton Pharmacy, we will go that little bit further to try to get your medication. I am sure there are some others that just don't bother.

Drug shortages are at best frustrating for pharmacy and inconvenient for patients but at worst can have serious consequences through switches to other drugs, cost to the NHS and increased hospital visits. 

I would love to hear your experiences of drug shortages and what you would do to improve the situation.

2 comments:

  1. Sounds a bit like an invidious distinction!

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