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Medicine supply problems ‘a daily occurrence in pharmacies across England’

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97% of pharmacy team members surveyed reported patient frustration due to medicine supply issues

A report released by Community Pharmacy England (CPE) has warned that pharmacies across England are grappling with daily medicine supply challenges, posing significant risks to patients’ health.

The Pharmacy Pressures Survey 2024: Medicines Supply Report, which is based on the views of the owners of over 6,100 pharmacy premises in England and 2,000 pharmacy team members, has exposed some alarming trends concerning medicine supply problems in the country.

Almost all pharmacy team members surveyed (97 per cent) reported patients being inconvenienced due to medicine supply issues, and 79 per cent of the participants said that the worsening situation is putting patient health at risk.

Nearly all respondents reported patient frustration stemming from medicine supply issues, with 84 per cent of them saying they had experienced aggression from patients.

Additionally, 98 per cent indicated an increase in ‘owings,’ where patients receive only part of their prescription and must return to the pharmacy for the remaining medication(s) at a later time.”

The severity of the situation is evident as 98 per cent of pharmacy team members surveyed have found themselves needing to issue more ‘owings’ to patients. In these cases, patients receive only part of their prescription and must return to the pharmacy at a later time to collect the remaining medication(s).

Pharmacy owners ranked medicine supply issues as one of the most severe pressures on their businesses, with 94 per cent of them reporting that their teams now spend more time sourcing medicines compared to last year.

Almost three-quarters of pharmacy staff reported spending an estimated 1-2 hours a day or more trying to obtain medicine stock or alternatives.

Concerningly, 89 per cent of pharmacy staff indicated experiencing daily occurrences of out-of-stock items from wholesalers, with 60 per cent needing to contact GP practices daily about supply chain issues.

This has led to extra workload and additional stress for staff.

The problem is beyond critical 

Commenting on the survey findings, Janet Morrison, CEO of Community Pharmacy England, said that the medicine supply challenges being faced by community pharmacies and their patients are “beyond critical.”

“Patients with a wide range of clinical and therapeutic needs are being affected on a daily basis and this is going far beyond inconvenience, leading to frustration, anxiety and affecting their health. For some patients, not having access to the medicines they need could lead to very serious consequences, even leaving them needing to visit A&E.

“For pharmacies, ensuring everyone can access the medicines they need has become an ongoing battle, putting immense pressures on pharmacy teams and businesses,” she said.

While pharmacies are doing everything that they can to find solutions for all their patients, they are “powerless” to resolve national and even global supply issues, and “they are being forced to operate with one hand tied behind their back,” Janet added.

Causes of the ongoing supply issues

Discontinuation of products and ongoing global supply chain issues are cited as causes of the medicines supply problems in the UK.

It is also believed that the UK has become a less attractive market for manufacturers due to the low prices of medicines, contributing to the reduction in supply chain resilience.

Malcolm Harrison, CEO of the Company Chemists’ Association, said: “The government’s continual push to drive down the price paid for medicines is now becoming a false economy for taxpayers. The race to the bottom is likely adding to the number of shortages and demonstrably affecting patient access to medicines.”

He stressed the urgent need for a wholesale review of the medicines supply market to ensure “it is fit for purpose” and an uplift in retained margin which has not been reviewed since 2014/15, despite significant increases in the volume and price of medicines procured.

“Ultimately without action, medicine shortages will continue to rise,” he added.

Medicines facing shortages

Although supply disruptions are impacting medicines across a range of clinical and therapeutic areas, those used for treating diabetes, ADHD, and epilepsy have notably been affected this year, the report revealed.

Availability issues with HRT, adrenalines and antibiotics were observed last year.

In addition to the immediate risks posed to patient health and well-being, medicine supply issues are impacting pharmacy businesses, exacerbating already intolerable operational and financial pressures that they are facing.

The report warned that without intervention, these pressures will lead to the closure of more pharmacies, putting the supply of medicines at increased risk.

A survey by Healthwatch England at the end of last year showed that one in four members of the public had experienced medicine shortages in the preceding 12 months.

Now, the report from Community Pharmacy England has revealed the extent of concern about shortages among pharmacy teams.

“Medicines supply is an ongoing issue that continues to wreak havoc on patients,” said William Pett, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research at Healthwatch England.

Pett has emphasized the need for a review of the medicine supply chain to ensure safety and resilience. He also advocated for granting pharmacy teams flexibility, where it is safe to do so, to make changes to medicines they dispense in collaboration with patients.”

Zoe Long, Director of Communications, Corporate and Public Affairs at Community Pharmacy England, noted that this year’s Pressures Survey results will be important evidence to support their campaigning and influencing work.

 

 

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