Drug shortages exacerbated by patients stockpiling ahead of Brexit, LMCs warn

Medicine shortages are being exacerbated by patient stockpiling ahead of Brexit, GPs have said - as LMCs unanimously called on UK health departments to address 'increasingly problematic' supply issues.

GPC prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green
GPC prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green

Speaking at the UK LMCs conference in Belfast, Dr Ronnie Burns of Glasgow LMC told the audience that the list of unavailable medicines was ‘extensive and growing continuously’.

‘Complex’ supply issues exist at a ‘local, national and even global scale,’ Dr Burns said, but problems had been ‘exacerbated’ by Brexit in recent months.

‘I’m amazed at the number of patients over the last few months who appear to be planning long overseas trips and needing at least three months of medication,’ he said. ‘This kind of activity along with pharmacy wholesalers panic buying stock simply exacerbates the supply problem and requires swift intervention at a national level. It is an increasingly problematic issue.’

In January, GPonline reported that the number of common medicines - including painkillers, antidepressants and blood pressure medicines - on a shortage of supply list for England had risen sharply, with GPs across the country speculating that it could be linked to ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

Medicine shortages

Dr Tom Yerburgh of Gloucester LMC, deputy policy lead for clinical prescribing at the GPC, said medicine supply issues were affecting the wider quality of care within general practice.

‘It’s not just the direct patient who’s affected here, it’s the next patient on your list,’ Dr Yerburgh told the audience.

He argued that the impact of a short supply alert ‘popping up on your screen’ after prescribing medicine in a previous consultation ‘just as you’re getting to a really important part of the next patient’s consultation’ could cause a GP’s concentration to ‘flicker for a second’.

‘That second may be enough to harm the next patient as well,’ he told the conference. ‘So it’s not just the direct effect on the patient, it’s the next patient, it’s the other patients… [It’s a] very serious problem indeed and it has been going for far, far too long.’

Brexit

Responding to the debate, GPC clinical prescribing lead Dr Andrew Green said: ‘This is a problem that has been ignored by all of our governments for at least a decade. And it is so sad that it’s the hideous self infliction of Brexit that’s made our politicians do anything at all - I suspect because they’re afraid of being blamed.’

He added that although the GPC had ‘broadly supported’ the introduction of serious shortage protocols - which under some circumstances allow pharmacists to prescribe alternative medicines for patients without them having to re-visit their GP - the legislation was nothing more than a ‘sticking plaster’ .

Dr Green concluded: 'Make no mistake - what we’re dealing with here is an acute exacerbation of a chronic disease and we all know as clinicians how dangerous that can be when we’ve also got the degree of severe frailty that we see in the supply chain.’

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