Drug shortages in the UK could remain into next year as parallel traders continue to cash in on the weak pound, according to British Association of European Pharmaceutical Distributors.

The Association’s secretary general Richard Freudenberg recently told Chemist and Druggist that traders will continue to profit from selling medicines abroad while the exchange rate stays below £1.20 to one euro.

This morning, the pound was floundering to the euro at 85 pence and, given the turbulent economic climate, it seems unlikely that it will gather much force in the near future. According to Freudenberg, the markets could remain volatile until early 2011, and he told the publication “£1.20 seems to be a tough threshold for the market to breach”.

Around £40-million worth of drugs destined for the National Health Service is diverted to foreign shores every month to line the pockets of parallel traders, despite patient suffering and strong warnings by the government not to do so.

Following an emergency summit involving all stakeholders in the UK medicines supply chain in March, a package of new measures was unveiled to curb medicines export and address the dwindling supply of around 40 different drugs, including some that treat potentially life-threatening conditions such as treat cancer and high blood pressure.

Earlier this month, the Scottish government also hardened its response to parallel exporters by modifying regulations to “place an obligation on pharmacists who dispense NHS prescriptions to use all reasonable endeavours to provide drugs and appliances with reasonable promptness and to refrain from taking any action which may delay or prevent the dispensing of prescribed patients”.

In a letter to NHS Boards across the country, Scotland’s chief pharmacist Bill Scott said the amendment regulations “also place on pharmacists an obligation to contact the prescriber to discuss alternative arrangements where there is likely to be, in that pharmacist’s opinion, a clinically significant delay in the dispensing of those drugs or appliances”.

Scott also stressed that Scottish Ministers support the new package of measures agreed at the UK emergency summit. However, despite these efforts to control the bleed of medicines from the country, it seems that the flow may only be stemmed if the pound gains significant ground against the euro, particularly as parallel trade is essentially legal under the free trade act.