Pharmacists are still reporting difficulties in obtaining many medicines as shortages in the UK grumble on despite a package of measures designed to curb the export of drugs to foreign shores.

A second survey by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain found that 57% of its members felt the situation with regard to medicines shortages has not changed since the first survey by the organisation back in February.

What’s more, a substantial portion - 40% - said the situation had actually worsened, indicating that the actions announced by the Department of Health following an emergency supply chain summit in March are yet to have any significant impact.

“This lamentable state of affairs needs to be addressed urgently,” warned Jeremy Holmes, the RPSGB’s chief executive. For a start, pharmacists need a reliable list of medicines that are running dry that is regularly updated and widely available, particularly as the key outcomes of summit “are predicated on having such a list”, he stressed.

Furthermore, Holmes called for “robust practice guidance on supply difficulties”, which, he says, will “help to clarify the situation for everyone and enable the rest of the supply chain to live up to its obligations to supply medicines in a timely manner”.

While the list fluctuates regularly as supply issues for individual medicines are addressed, at last count (May 15) the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said that pharmacists are still reporting trouble obtaining 37 different branded drugs, including Novartis’ cancer therapy Glivec (imatinib), Merck Sharp & Dohme’s diabetes pill Januvia (sitagliptin), and Eli Lilly’s antipsychotic Zyprexa (olanzapine).

Cashing in
Earlier this year it was estimated that around £40-million worth of medicines – including some for potentially life-threatening conditions – that are destined for the National Health Service are being diverted abroad every month by parallel exporters cashing in on the weak pound and the UK’s relatively low prices kept in check by the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme.

But despite the efforts of the (previous) government and supply chain organisations to curtail this activity, which is legal to a point under the principle of free trade in Europe, fears are growing that while the pound’s value flounders and there is money to be made traders will continue selling drugs abroad.

Richard Freudenberg, secretary general of the British Association of European Pharmaceutical Distributors, recently told Chemist and Druggist that we could see medicines shortages until next year, as long as the exchange rate stays below £1.20 to one euro.