Health Minister Simon Burns has been criticised for claiming that the best-practice guidance developed with the medicines supply chain to tackle prescription drug shortages has been "very successful."

The Minister was speaking at an adjournment debate in the House of Commons called by Huw Irranca-Davies, Labour MP for Ogmore, to discuss the issue. Mr Irranca-Davies said that around 50 products used to treat a wide range of conditions including cancer, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, depression asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, are now affected by supply problems.

Mr Burns told the House that parallel trade exports are currently reducing the supply of medicines available to UK patients but pointed out that the trade is legal. "Indeed, in the past, UK patients have benefited from medicines being imported to this country by the same process," he added.

"I cannot stress firmly enough that there are existing legal duties on manufacturers and distributors, within the limits of their responsibilities, to maintain a suitable supply of medicines to pharmacies so that the needs of patients are met, but regrettably a minority of operators in the supply chain are though to be putting profit before patients," said Mr Burns.

However, as a direct result of the arrangements put in place, "combined with the diligence and professionalism of the majority of the supply chain, patients overwhelmingly have access to the right medicines in a timely and efficient manner," he told the House.

Other European countries such as Germany, France and Italy have introduced a Patient Service Obligation (IPO), which incorporate supply obligations for manufacturers and wholesalers.

Commenting on these arrangements, the Minister said: "we are cautious about going down that road. It would vastly increase regulation on the industry and drive up costs across the board," and that was why the government has chosen to go down the route of best practice guidance instead.

"Best practice arrangements exist - they have been agreed with all parts of the supply chain and they have been very successful in minimising the impact of shortages. It is a much more flexible approach in comparison with statutory regulation," he added.

However, the Minister's claims have been strongly criticised by Sue Sharpe, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) who said: "the guidance has not been successful - patients and pharmacists have seen no improvement in the situation."

"The PSNC is trying to work with the Department of Health and the rest of the supply chain to resolve these issues, but these statements are at odds with the realities," she added.