The British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW) has called on pharmacy and manufacturers to support third-party monitoring and reporting of branded medicine supplies.

Urgent consideration should be given to the provision of a robust, objective monitoring and survey service of medicines to pharmacies and dispensing doctors, and this would need the support of all those working in and dependent on the supply chain, the BAPW has told the All-Party Pharmacy Group's inquiry into medicine shortages. 

"Only this type of objective monitoring and reporting will give confidence back to what is a world-class system, as well as being a positive contribution to patient safety," the Association tells the MPs, in its submission to the inquiry.

The submission also points out that while the various stakeholders in the supply chain are now working together more closely, inefficiencies still remain which could be rebalanced by regulatory enforcement and, if necessary, regulatory adjustment.

"The medicines supply in the UK has proven so resilient that, by and large, patients have been hidden from this particular problem. However, it is the long-term resilience that this inquiry should address. The patient voice is best represented in this NHS supply chain by the Department of Health," said BAPW executive director Martin Sawer.

"The key issue here is that action should be undertaken to avoid patients being harmed. In our business, it is not usually acceptable to argue that action will only be taken if there is evidence of patient harm - our whole business ethos is predicated on preventing that harm from occurring in the first place," he added.

Other issues highlighted in the industry group's submission include the fact that the ability to map demand and respond speedily to patient needs has become more difficult, as the profile of branded medicines in short supply changes over time from high-volume products to low-volume, high-priced medicines.

Moreover, it tells MPs that the management of quotas to try to distribute medicines fairly to pharmacy takes many hours of wholesalers' time and is a further inefficiency cost borne by the supply chain. For example, it says that BAPW members have been forced to make investments not only in IT systems to manage medicine allocations but also in additional staff for these new processes and the increased demand for pharmacy customer services, and are also having to bear the increased costs of "emergency" ordering processes.

The Association also points out that it has consistently suggested initiatives to help deal with shortages of branded medicines. For example it has, together with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), proposed the creation of buffer stocks in wholesale, keeping emergency supplies closer to the patient in the event that pharmacies need to call on them.

It has also suggested a number of "obligations to supply," including, most recently, a Patient Service Obligation.