Northamptonshire pharmacies experiencing unprecedented medicine supply problems

Locum pharmacist David Wildman. NNL-181221-095745005
Locum pharmacist David Wildman. NNL-181221-095745005

Pharmacies are having to beg and borrow medicines to supply customers as stocks of lots of popular medicines are running low and patients are having to be turned away.

Pharmacists in Northamptonshire with decades of experience say this is the worst situation they have ever known as they are having to spend hours each day trying to track down medicines from wholesalers or direct from the manufacturers.

Anil Patel, who has run a pharmacy in Mill Road, Kettering, since 1986, said: “I and my colleagues have been in this business for a long time and we all say we have never known anything like this. Every time you come in, there is something new unavailable. It is frustrating.

“Nobody knows the cause. Whether it is Brexit we don’t know as nobody is giving us any answers.

“We are having to beg and borrow from other pharmacies.

“The Government needs to get a grip and sort it out. The patients are getting frustrated.”

Mr Patel said his staff are spending two hours per day calling suppliers trying to source medicines. Patients are having to wait for their prescriptions to be delivered and sometimes have to be sent elsewhere.

Locum pharmacist David Wildman, who has been in the profession for 40 years, said the current situation is ‘crazy and frustrating’ and the discussion on pharmacist forums is that the recent problems could be Brexit-related.

He said: “This is no way to run a health service and it is getting worse. Our time should be patient-facing rather than sorting out stock supply issues.”

Pharmacists typically order their stock from a wholesaler which will have sourced it from the manufacturer. Problems in the supply chain are common due to the just-in-time nature of the system. However, health professionals are saying the number of drugs out of stock is unprecedented.

They say the problem has escalated over the past three months and is now causing issues for GPs who are having to re-write prescriptions. The shortage could have an impact on costs as doctors may have to prescribe more expensive medicines if a more cost-effective medicine is out of stock.

Corby GP Joanne Watt said this week she thinks the supply problem has been caused by Brexit uncertainty.

Mary Butcher, of Corby, said she has had problems getting her usual prescription from her pharmacist.

She said: “That has never happened to me before and fortunately it is a medicine that I need to take now and again rather than every day. It will be a problem for people who need to take it daily and this could have an effect on people’s health.”

A spokesman from the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said Brexit was causing uncertainty: “Community pharmacists and everyone in the medicines supply chain need certainty as soon as possible.

“Timely supply of medicines is important to patient health, so maintaining a safe and effective medicines supply service will continue to be our primary focus.

“The Government has listened to our concerns and is consulting on legislation to allow pharmacists certain flexibilities during supply.

“These contingency measures allow pharmacists to use their clinical judgement to meet patient demand.

“They could include substituting medicines in short supply for other suitable alternatives, under agreed protocols.

“It’s good news because it should make it easier to ensure patients get their medicines in a timely fashion.

“Whatever the Brexit scenario that finally emerges, pharmacists will put the needs of patients first, as they always do.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman: “Our number one priority is to ensure the continued supply of medicines and we work closely with industry and partners in the health system to help prevent disruption.

“The department has well established processes to manage and mitigate the small number of supply problems that may arise at any one time due to manufacturing or distribution issues.

“The vast majority of medicines are not subject to supply problems and every day over two million prescription items are successfully dispensed in England.”

Sarah Ward, Local Democracy Reporting Service