With UK patients still experiencing unacceptable delays in accessing branded life-saving drugs, the current regulations governing medicines supply are becoming unfit for purpose and must be replaced, wholesalers have told the government.

The British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW) has drawn up a Patient Service Obligation (PSO) which states that all those who supply medicines - whether by manufacture, distribution or dispensing - have a duty to ensure that the medicines supply chain is economically efficient, in line with the clinical needs of patients, that patients can easily and quickly obtain the medicines they need and that suppliers should prioritise the provision of medicines to UK patients. 

"Medicines supply arrangements must be sufficiently robust and stable to guarantee a continuous supply to patients, including being rigorous enough to absorb short-term disruption," the PSO adds.

The BAPW is critical of the Department of Health's "reluctance" to amend the current regulations governing the medicines supply chain, given the continuing delays, and it calls on all members of the chain to support the PSO in order to demonstrate their commitment to patient needs and safety, now and into the future.

"We believe this is necessary to convince policymakers and regulators to update the existing and outdated regulations which, as evidence has shown, continue to put patients' lives at risk," said the BAPW's executive director, Martin Sawer.

Also, Lloydspharmacy reported last week that eight out of 10 of its pharmacists continue to be unable to dispense certain medicines because of shortages, and 50% told the firm that they are having to spend between one and three hours a week chasing down limited supplies of medicines.

98% of the pharmacists felt that the shortages, being caused by parallel exporting and manufacturers' subsequent introduction of quotas, are having a real impact on patient health, it added.

Lloydspharmacy managing director Tony Page described the situation as "intolerable" and as potentially putting people's health at "real risk," while Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, said the current quota system is "not working."

"Not only is it wasting a considerable amount of both GPs' and pharmacists' time that should be spend advising patients, it is also potentially causing real harm to patients," said Dr Dixon.