A survey by the Independent Pharmacy Federation has identified Eli Lily, Pfizer and Sanofi as the drugmakers that present them with the worst difficulties in obtaining medicine supplies.

Out of more than 500 independent pharmacists questioned by the survey, 27% named Lilly as the most problematic, 13% singled out Sanofi and 12% cited Pfizer.  29% of the pharmacists also told the IPF that, in the past week, more than 10 of their patients had been affected by drug shortages, while a further 30% said that five-10 patients were affected during the week.

50% of the pharmacists said they were spending up to three hours every week trying to obtain supplies for these patients from alternative sources, with 11% saying these efforts took them between three and four hours each week.

A spokesperson for Eli Lilly was quoted as saying that one of the concerns for the firm was around the diversion of its antipsychotic agent Zyprexa (olanzapine), which was likely to be "a significant contributing factor" to the survey findings.

The results also "appear to highlight how shortages created by medicines being diverted away from the UK can negatively impact patients and those trying to help them manage their healthcare," added Lilly, while the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said it was "concerned" at the findings.

Move to DTP model

"A number of ABPI members have chosen to move to a direct to pharmacy model in order to take responsibility of the distribution process and to ensure that UK patients receive the treatments they require," said ABPI chief executive Stephen Whitehead.

"DTP allows manufactures to keep track of where the medicines they produce are going, secures the supply chain and allows effective trace and recall if necessary," said Mr Whitehead, who also pointed out that a number of mechanisms are in place to ensure the supply of medicines to patients, and that pharmacists in the UK who require support in sourcing the medicines they need can find further information from the Pharmaceutical Services negotiating Committee.

"We encourage the IPF to lend its support to driving adoption of the recent Department of Health guidelines, as well as sharing the results and methodology of its surgery with us directly, so that we may better understand their findings," said Mr Whitehead.

He added: "the ABPI has stated previously that current challenges in the supply chain cannot be solved in isolation and will only be addressed by all healthcare partners working collaboratively to find an appropriate solution."

- The IPF was originally set up in 2006 but was relaunched in June this year to provide "an exclusive and stronger voice for independent pharmacy," according to executive director Claire Ward. The Federation notes independent pharmacies now account for just 40% of the sector.