Urgent action required on medicine shortages



Medicines shortages are a growing problem across Europe, not just in the UK, according to a new report by the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU).


All responding countries experienced medicine shortages in community pharmacies in the past 12 months, and the vast majority (87%) of respondents indicated that the situation got worse compared to 2018. All classes of medicines are affected by medicine shortages in community pharmacies.


In the majority of responding countries (67%), over 200 medicines were listed as in short supply at the time of completing the survey.


All responding countries indicated that they believe medicine shortages cause distress and inconvenience to patients. Interruption of treatments (75% of countries), increased copayments as a result of more expensive/non-reimbursed alternatives (58%) and suboptimal treatment/inferior efficacy (42%) are also perceived as negative consequences of medicine shortages on patients.


Medicine shortages are believed to affect community pharmacy businesses in most countries by a reduced level of patient trust (92% of countries), financial loss due to time invested in mitigating shortages (82%) and reduced employee satisfaction (79%).


Across European countries, strong differences exist in terms of legal solutions community pharmacists can offer in case of a shortage. Generic substitution (79 % of countries), sourcing the same medicine from alternative authorised sources (such as other pharmacies) (63%), and importing the medicine from a country where it is available (46%) are the solutions which can be provided in most of the European countries.


The time pharmacy staff have to spent on dealing with medicine shortages has increased from 5,6 hours per week (2018) to 6,6 hours per week on average.


25% of responding countries indicated that there is still no reporting system for shortages in place which can be used by community pharmacists in their country, despite that pharmacists often experience or foresee supply difficulties before the industry or wholesalers are aware that there is, or will be, a problem.


Community pharmacists receive the needed information on shortages in most countries from wholesalers (71%), medicines agencies (67%) and pharmacy organisations (42%).


The 2019 PGEU Medicine Shortages Survey Results cover the responses from 24 European countries and is created from the perspective of community pharmacists across Europe.


Pharmacy associations from all the countries in the PGEU survey said they had experienced medicines shortages in 2019.  Of the 24 countries, 21 said the situation had got worse in the last 12 months.  In the majority of counties, over 200 medicines were listed as being in short supply at the time of completing the survey, which was carried out in November and December 2019.  The most widespread shortages were medications affecting the central nervous system, respiratory medicines and cardiovascular medicines.


The shortages were reported to have caused distress and sometimes serious harm.


National Pharmacy Association Policy Manager Helga Mangion said:


“This data is further evidence of a widespread problem in this country and across Europe.


“Because of heroic efforts by pharmacists, patients usually get their medicines when and where they need them, but longstanding faults in the medicines supply chain too often leave patients waiting. It’s time for urgent action, to reduce the risk of harm and to allow pharmacists to spend more time with patients instead of hunting for stock.”


The NPA is part of the UK’s delegation to PGEU, alongside the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.


You can view the survey results below.


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