British life-style: Medicine shortages in England ‘beyond critical’

10:04 11.05.2024 •

Drug shortages in England are now at such critical levels that patients are at risk of immediate harm and even death, pharmacists have warned. Survey has revealed challenges faced by pharmacists and risk of harm to patients as key drugs are unavailable, notes ‘The Guardian’.

The situation is so serious that pharmacists increasingly have to issue “owings” to patients – telling someone that only part of their prescription can be dispensed and asking them to come back for the rest of it later, once the pharmacist has sourced the remainder.

Hundreds of different drugs have become hard or impossible to obtain, according to Community Pharmacy England (CPE), which published the report. Widespread and often long-lasting shortages posed “immediate risks to patient health and wellbeing” and caused distress, it said.

“The medicine supply challenges being faced by community pharmacies and their patients are beyond critical,” said Janet Morrison, CPE’s chief executive.

“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. Medicines shortages are leading to delays in patients being able to access certain critical or potentially life-saving medicines in a timely manner.”

James Davies, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s director for England, said: “Medicines shortages are disrupting treatment for some patients and destabilising their health.”

CPE, which represents England’s 10,500 community pharmacies, based its findings on a survey of the views of owners of 6,100 pharmacy premises and 2,000 of their staff. It found:

  • 79% of pharmacy staff said that medicine shortages were putting patient health at risk.
  • 91% of pharmacy owners had seen a “significant increase” in the problem since last year.
  • 99% of pharmacy workers found a drug was unavailable at least weekly, and 72% encountered that several times a day.

Pharmacists are finding themselves on the receiving end of abuse and hostility from patients who are frustrated and angered by not being able to get the drugs they have been prescribed.

“Most people are very understanding, but they are worried and frightened, and inevitably sometimes that boils over and we have people taking it out on us,” said Fin McCaul, the owner of an independent community pharmacy in Greater Manchester. “We have had patients being annoyed and angry, and occasions of people spitting at us. I regularly have staff in tears by the end of the day because of the sheer pressure of it all.”

Overall, 84% of pharmacy staff have experienced aggression from patients, CPE said.

In a major report last month the Nuffield Trust thinktank warned that drug shortages had become a “new normal” and were being worsened by Brexit.

Mark Dayan, its Brexit programme lead, said: “Nearly every available indicator shows that since 2021 we have experienced a once unthinkable level of medicines shortages again and again. The crisis jumps between products and conditions, with no sign of slowing down.”


read more in our Telegram-channel