A shortage of some drugs puts patients at risk, pharmacists warn.
A poll of 1,562 UK pharmacists for the Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than half (54%) believed patients had been put at risk due to shortages in the past six months.
A number of patients have struggled in recent months to access certain medications, sometimes having to go to multiple pharmacies to find their prescription or have to go back to their GP to prescribe an alternative.
The problem arose when shortages of hormone replacement therapy drugs led to protest earlier this year.
Since June, the government has issued a number of “medical delivery notices” highlighting shortages.
Some of these include: pain relievers used in childbirth; mouth ulcer medication; migraine treatment; an antihistamine; a drug used by patients with prostate cancer and endomitosis; an antipsychotic used in patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; a type of inhaler and a particular brand of insulin.
The Pharmaceutical Journal also reported that on Aug. 3, ministers urged hospitals to keep “stocks” of an anticoagulant drug used to treat strokes.
Some pharmacists have expressed concerns about switching patients from certain medications to alternatives.
Ways to reduce shortages
Public pharmacists told the Pharmaceutical Journal this month that shortages of the osteoporosis drug alendronic acid contributed to medication errors in prescribing alternatives.
The magazine reported that talks have begun with pharmacy leaders and the government about ways to reduce the shortages.
Explainer: Why is there a shortage of HRT?
A pharmacist at a children’s hospital in England said problems with the variable supply of food products put patients at risk.
“We had to ration it, and this may have put patients at risk for vitamin deficiencies,” she said.
Another hospital pharmacist expressed concern about the unavailability of drugs at the end of a patient’s life.
They told the magazine, “There was no alternative for one patient who experienced an additional symptom in the last days of life due to a lack of available treatment.”
Mike Dent, director of pharmacy finance at the pharmaceutical services negotiating committee, told the magazine, “We are increasingly concerned about drug delivery issues and the very serious impact this is having on both community pharmacy teams and their patients.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We take patient safety extremely seriously and we share information about drug supply issues directly with the NHS so they can develop plans to reduce the risk of shortages for patients. including the provision of alternative medications.
“We have established procedures to address drug shortages and are working closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages and resolve any problems as quickly as possible.”