The Department of Health must "stop sticking its head in the sand" over the issue of medicines shortages, the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW) has urged.

"We work in a supply chain which presents many conflicting incentives, and we must have leadership from the Department of Health," BAPW chairman Mark James told the Association's conference in London this week.

He stressed the importance of working together with all stakeholders to attempt to forge a joint solution which recognises the true complexity of the issue, rather than playing a "blame game."

Patients have to be the priority here - medicines shortages and supply issues are not just policy matters, they have implications for compliance and patient outcomes, added Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). He emphasised that drugmakers are unable to simply stop delivering supplies to exporting pharmacies – “we can’t collude on data,” he said - and also pointed out that the recent inquiry into medicines shortages by the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) in Parliament had made no criticism of either the manufacturing industry or the wholesaling sector.

The key players here are the BAPW, the ABPI and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said Mr Whitehead, and he told the meeting: "we can solve this if we work together, and I think we can force the hand of government." 


Mr Whitehead has asked Pharma Times to clarify a point which he made during his speech when raising the issue of the need for change in the medicines supply system.

"The key stakeholders in the supply chain - representing manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacists - cannot resolve this situation alone. We have to work closely together with the Department of Health and in particular the DH Supply Chain Forum, to ensure that the medicines supply chain is as stable and secure as possible. Through our partnerships we have moved toward, and I believe the situation is improving. In fact, it looks like the tide is now turning as the exchange rates swing once again," he says.

"Action has to be taken to ensure patient safety, but no one party can force this issue on their own," Mr Whitehead adds.

The APPG inquiry report had called on the Medicines and Healthcare Products Agency (MHRA) to "improve its efforts to enforce obligations on those with licenses to conduct wholesale activities," and to "consider carefully whether it is in the best interests of patients to see further growth in the number of Wholesale Dealer Licenses."

Gerald Heddell, director of inspections, enforcement and standards at the MHRA, told the conference that the agency is currently putting together its detailed response to the report's findings, but he pointed to the initial response of Health Minister Earl Howe, who had emphasised that the interests of patients must come first, and welcomed the Group's calls to give more teeth to Department guidance and MHRA enforcement activities.

- Meantime, while the 2011-12 pharmacy funding settlement includes an additional £12 million to reflect the extra work involved for pharmacists in sourcing medicines that are in short supply, dispensing doctors do not receive any additional funding, even though they are spending an average of three hours a week on this extra work, the Dispensing Doctors Association (DDA) has reported.

"The Department of Health needs to act urgently to address medicines shortages, or fund dispensing doctors to continue to source medicines in short supply," says the DDA, in a parliamentary briefing paper published this week.