In the GPonline survey of 441 GPs, 82% said drug shortages had forced them to prescribe a second-choice drug in the past 12 months. Just 12% said they had not, while 6% indicated they did not know.
One in five (18%) of the GPs who had prescribed a second-choice drug said that patients had gone on to experience negative effects as a result, including harm or slower recovery.
Another 43% said they were not aware of any adverse effects, and 39% said they did not know.
Many GP respondents expressed their frustration at the situation, which several reported had happened on a number of occasions.
One said a patient had suffered because the medicine they needed was not manufactured for a time. Another said that, while no patients had experienced major effects, ‘some have complained of increased side effects’.
One GP said the problems were causing patients ‘inconvenience rather than harm’, while another warned that some patients were being delayed treatment.
Dr Andrew Green, chairman of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee said: ‘The issue of secure drug supply is an on-going problem that no one has been able to adequately address.
‘Sometimes problems can be very localised, so you can have difficulties in one part of the country and not in others. That makes informing GPs really quite a difficult task to do.
‘That’s an absolutely key issue. The first thing a GP knows about a drug shortage is when a patient returns disgruntled from the community pharmacy saying that the chemist can't get hold of a particular medicine. And even when that happens, you can't be sure if it’s a problem that’s widespread or limited instead to that particular pharmacy chain.
‘I think that GPs would welcome some sort of central system of alerting, but it doesn’t help patients who are on a regular medication. Obviously, if there's a sudden shortage of one particular cream, then for acute medications you can change it if you know about it. But if someone is on a repeat medication, the inconvenience to the GP and the patient really is quite large.
‘There's no doubt patients find changes in medication inconvenient, and whenever you change a patient from a medication on which they are settled there's always a chance of introducing new adverse drug reactions.’