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UK says hidden drugs shortage ‘getting worse’ as generics supply slows

By Fiona Barry , 31-Jul-2014
Last updated on 31-Jul-2014 at 16:03 GMT

Some are blaming  the scarcity of particular drugs on quotas imposed by manufacturers and some wholesalers
Some are blaming the scarcity of particular drugs on quotas imposed by manufacturers and some wholesalers

The UK All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) has warned Britain is suffering from a shortage of branded and generic drugs.

After a roundtable meeting with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, the Group’s chairman reported that the UK’s medicines shortage is “less visible” than when concerns began two years ago, but “the problem is far from solved.

The APPG is chaired by Labour MP (Member of Parliament) Kevin Barron and includes cross-party politicians, and representatives from ABPI (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry), MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. It receives financial support from the National Pharmacy Association, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and other groups.

 ‘Quotas’ to blame

Barron blamed the scarcity of some drugs on quotas imposed by manufacturers and some wholesalers:

These are often opaque and inflexible, meaning that community pharmacists are still having to spend a large amount of their time negotiating to obtain the medicines their patients need. Pharmacists are sometimes having to ration medicines in order to manage shortages.

While UK drug shortages two years ago were overwhelmingly caused by parallel exporting to overseas markets, this practice has declined due to changes in exchange rates creating a stronger pound, according to the APPG.

Now, it says, quotas, and confusion surrounding them, is contributing to the hidden problem. Pharmacists’ “incredibly hard” work to minimise disruption “is giving the impression that the issue of shortages has lessened to a low level. But the problem remains – the supply chain is just getting better at managing it,” said the Group.

Despite these efforts it’s clear that where pharmacists are not able to source vital medicines their patients are often suffering stress and inconvenience.

The APPG called on the UK government to address the medicines shortfall, and asked the Department of Health to publish updated supply chain guidance “specifically addressing best practice in quota setting and management.

Not enough generics

The Group, led by Barron, said it was concerned that the supply of generic medicines is becoming as much of a problem as branded drugs.

This is getting worse and it’s currently not being addressed by the Department for Health’s supply chain forum which was established to address branded medicines supply problems.” More than 70% of UK prescriptions are for generic medicines.

While some of the causes of generic shortages reflect the globalisation of the generics market, “that cannot be an excuse for no action,” said the cross-party group.

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