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Why is there a medicine shortage in the UK? Pharmacists issue warning

The Ukraine-Russia war is among the reasons for the shortages (Anthony Devlin / PA)
The Ukraine-Russia war is among the reasons for the shortages (Anthony Devlin / PA)

Pharmacists have warned that NHS medicine shortages hitting the UK could cause a healthcare crisis.

Unpublished Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) figures provided to the British Generic Manufacturers Association reveal that the number of products in short supply has doubled in two years.

There were 111 drugs on a shortages list on October 30 last year, and 96 on December 18, with supply notifications issued for a further 10 treatments to NHS providers in the UK since then.

It amounts to a 100 per cent increase in shortages compared with January 2022. Pharmacists and health charities are claiming the conditions of some patients were deteriorating as a result.

Janet Morrison, the chief executive of Community Pharmacy England, said: “Pharmacy teams have been struggling to get hold of prescription medicines for many months but the problem is now worse than ever.

"It has become worryingly normal to see hundreds of medicines affected by pricing and other issues every month, with problems now a daily occurrence for pharmacies.

"Pharmacies are having to spend hours – on average an extra 11 hours a week – tracking down the medicines their patients need.

"This all causes worrying delays for patients and, in worst cases, it can lead to a deterioration of their health: last year, we surveyed people working in pharmacies and 87 per cent told us that their patients’ health was being put at risk due to medicine-supply issues. This is shocking, and the Government and the NHS must step in to resolve these issues.”

A Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “There are a number of reasons that a limited number of medicines may be unavailable, such as manufacturing difficulties, supply of raw materials, sudden demand spikes, or issues with distribution.

"The department has well-established procedures to deal with such issues and works closely with industry, the NHS, and others to prevent shortages, and resolve any problems as soon as they arise.

“This includes working closely with the NHS so they can put suggested plans in place to mitigate the risk of the shortage impacting patients.”

What is causing medicine shortages?

The falling purchasing value of the pound following the Brexit referendum is thought to be one cause of the medicine shortages. This reduces the NHS’s ability to source medicines abroad.

The Ukraine-Russia war and problems in global supply chains have also affected many European countries’ drugs supply, with concerns being raised about fresh market instability in light of the violence in the Red Sea, a key shipping corridor for vital ingredients.

Which drugs are being affected?

Among the drugs being affected is a treatment for controlling epileptic seizures, which was the latest to be added to a UK drugs-shortage list. Treatments for conditions ranging from cancer to schizophrenia and type 2 diabetes are also on the list.