The All Party Pharmacy Group is calling for urgent action to address the continuing problem of medicines shortages in the UK, and is warning of snowballing problems seen for the first time in the supply of generic drugs.

On the branded medicines side, shortages are now "less visible" than when the APPG first held an inquiry two years ago, some of which can be explained by a stronger pound making exports to other regions in Europe less favourable.

However, "the problem is far from solved" says Kevin Barron MP. "Work that pharmacists do in minimising disruption to patients 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".

Manufacturers and some wholesalers are still imposing quotas which are often "opaque and inflexible", he said, which is leaving community pharmacists with no option but to spend "a large amount of their time negotiating to obtain the medicines their patients need," or even having to ration drugs to help manage the situation. 

But "despite these efforts it’s clear that where pharmacists are not able to source vital medicines their patients are often suffering stress and inconvenience," Sir Barron said.

Wider view of patient harm

According to the APPG, the government can and should be doing more to address medicines shortages in the country, and it also needs to take a wider view of what constitutes patient harm. A more realistic definition is needed, it argues, so that patients experiencing distress and anxiety because of these shortages are recognised as suffering harm.

The Group also voiced concern that, unlike two years ago, there are now growing problems in the supply of generic medicines which are steadily getting worse.

"We are concerned that shortages in the generics market could result in many patients being unable to get their medicines on time," it said, noting "This could be disastrous for patients: over 70% of prescriptions are for generic medicines".

Collaboration, data sharing and more pre-emptive action is needed to maintain sufficient supplies, it said.