A group of MPs has announced that it is to hold "a full-scale inquiry" into the continuing problem of shortages of NHS medicines.

Work will begin immediately on the inquiry, the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) said yesterday, adding that it will call for written evidence and invite witnesses to evidence sessions. The Group will produce a report of its conclusions and recommendations for action by government and other interested parties in the first quarter of next year.

Problems in the drug supply chain have been occurring for two years now, with no sign of improvement, the MPs note. While they are aware that the reasons for shortages are complex and not the result of one single factor, they say they are "concerned that efforts to resolve the issue have failed to improve matters."

Shortages of NHS prescription drugs have now become "a daily challenge for pharmacists up and down the country," said the APPG's chairman, Labour MP Kevin Barron.

"This has been a problem for far too long, and as far as we can see the situation is not improving. The best interests of patients are being put at risk if medicines are not available when they are needed, and pharmacists are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to source medicines that are in short supply," he added.

Earlier this month, Lloydspharmacy reported that eight out of 10 of its pharmacists continue to be unable to dispense certain medicines because of shortages, and that 98% of the pharmacists believe that the continuing problems are having a real impact on patients' health.

And the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW) has warned that the current regulations governing medicines supply are becoming unfit for purpose.

Yesterday, Mr Barron emphasised that the problem is not about "over-the-counter medicines designed to treat minor ailments - this is about prescription medicines, including those for treating serious conditions such as hypertension, depression, diabetes and respiratory disease. In fact, medicines for almost every major condition have at some point in recent times gone into shortage." 

"It is simply not acceptable that patients are being put at risk by their unavailability, and we cannot leave the situation unresolved," he said. The current government has looked into the problem but the APPG wants to inject some urgency into it, so it will get to work quickly, he said.

"We'll seek the views of everyone involved in the medicines supply chain and we will be asking the government about its plans for tackling this serious issue," said Mr Barron, adding: "my aim is that we play a part in getting the problem under control and reducing it as quickly as possible."

To submit written evidence to the inquiry, the MPs ask that it should be sent by email to appg@luther.co.uk by December 23.