80% of the 60 NHS Trusts in England and Wales are experiencing a drugs shortage. Those are the results of a request made under the Freedom of Information Act by Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies. About 80 medicines are still on the danger list. They include critical drugs for cancer, heart conditions and Alzheimer’s disease. Irranca-Davies said the Government needed to take the issue more seriously as things were not working. He said: “Patients are having to wait weeks for drugs and it’s not good enough.”
The information revealed that the shortage was doing patients “serious harm”, with some going to hospital for emergency treatment due to the inability to get their medicines when they needed them. Some people (notably the All Party Pharmacy Group report in May) have laid the blame at wholesalers looking to take advantage of comparatively cheap prices in the UK and exchange rate benefits by exporting drugs that had been intended for use in the UK – a practice that is legal. Others have criticised the quota systems and restrictive supplies operated by the suppliers.
Andrew McCoig, the chief executive of the NHS pharmaceutical committee for Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth in south London, claimed that shortages were “out of hand and nearing catastrophe”. He blamed the suppliers and criticised them for not explaining their quota system or engaging in direct debate.
In Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield, pharmacists said that “serious harm” had been caused to patients. The NHS Trust said: “Before the introduction of manufacturers’ quotas, the market for medicines worked effectively. No longer can patients be assured that if they walk into a pharmacy their medication will be available immediately or within an acceptable timescale.”
Stephen Whitehead, the chief executive of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries, said quotas were a “legitimate means of ensuring that UK patients receive the medicines they need. If all the medicines manufacturers provided went to UK pharmacists, they would have in excess of what they need, but while these medicines continue to flow out of the UK these problems will persist, and make no mistake, patients will be affected. ”