Drug shortages in the UK caused by an increase in parallel exports are starting to take their toll on patients, with many having to watch their conditions worsen while they wait for more supplies, a new survey has revealed.

In a poll of more than 150 community pharmacies carried out by Chemist and Druggist nearly a third of respondents claimed that patients had suffered because of delays in accessing medicines, while 89% said they were “very concerned” and 11% said they had “some concern” that patients would be affected by the situation.

Pharmacists described how one patient had panic attacks while waiting for the antidepressant Cipralex (escitalopram), another experienced rising blood pressure while waiting for the antihypertensive Aprovel (irbesartan), and that a shortage of the blood thinner Plavix (clopidogrel) even contributed to one patient having to go in to hospital, C&D reports.

According to data from market analyst IMS Health, every month £30-million worth of medicines are being sold abroad as some pharmacists, wholesalers and dispensing doctors make the most of the weak pound to earn some extra cash, but this, while completely legal, is starting to seriously affect the availability of medicines in the UK.

Furthermore, it is also driving some patients to switch to medicines that aren’t in short supply, which can be inconvenient and even damaging if the replacing drug induces side-effects or a different dosing regimen causes confusion, thereby affecting treatment compliance and outcomes.

ABPI view
In response to the growing fears over drug shortages, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry this week published its viewpoint on the matter, stating: “The reality is that medicines produced for patients in the UK are being removed from the UK supply chain, and this is now having an impact upon the ability of pharmacists to provide patients with the medicines they need”.

However, it stressed that the pharmaceutical industry “is committed to maintaining a reliable supply of medicines”, and that it is currently working with the Department of Health, the pharmacy professional and trade bodies, the BAPW and others to solve the problem.

In addition, the Association said it welcomes the recent legal and ethical bulletin on exporting medicines issued by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, reminding pharmacists of their ethical responsibility to patients, as well as the DH’s “strongly worded letter” to secondary care trusts to discourage any involvement in exporting.