Medicine shortages increased in past year piling workload pressure on GPs

Medicine shortages have become worse during the past year, leading to increased GP workload and causing adverse effects in patients.

Medicines on shelf in a pharmacy
Medicine shortages (Picture: Westend61/Getty Images)

A GPonline poll this month found that more GPs reported having to deal with drug shortages in the previous 12 months than had done so in a similar survey conducted in June last year.

In this latest poll of 185 GPs, nine in ten (89%) doctors said they had been forced to prescribe second choice drugs as a result of medicine shortages at some point in the past year, with some saying shortages had 'dramatically increased'.

When asked the same question last year, 83.5% of GPs said they had experienced problems with out-of-stock drugs during the previous 12 months.

The results come as GPonline's sister website MIMS revealed that last month the number of of drugs on its shortages tracker topped 150 for the first time since it was launched in April 2019.

Medicine shortages

Nine in ten GPs respoding to GPonline's latest poll said that medicine shortages had resulted in increased workload for doctors, with the same number saying the problem had inconvenienced patients.

Some GPs reported that shortages had led to patients' long term conditions becoming less well controlled and contributed to rising levels of abuse from patients towards practice staff.

A total of 18% of the GPs said that patients had experienced adverse effects as a result of being prescribed a second choice medicine.

GPs responding to the poll said that medicine shortages were a huge waste of time in general practice. One GP described shortages as a 'daily battle' that was 'very time consuming'.

Another GP said it was a 'huge drain on GP time trying to find and prescribe alternatives'. They added that the problem also increased 'patient dissatisfaction', because they had to go backwards and forwards between the pharmacy and practice, and said patients 'often take it out on reception staff'.

Impact on patients

Some GPs said that patients had been adversely impacted by shortages because out-of-stock medicines limited the options available for treatment. One GP said: 'We can't prescribe or obtain medication and there are often not good alternatives. The patient suffers with no suitable medication, or ones that do not work as well.'

GPs also highlighted that shortages meant that patients often needed additional appointments to explain new medications, which was adding further workload onto already overstretched practice teams.

Out of stock HRT was the most common shortage mentioned. However GPs also reported that many other common treatments including eye drops, ear drops, H2-antagonists, contraception, alendronic acid and certain antidepressants had been difficult to obtain.

Shortages recently added to the MIMS drugs shortages tracker affect Hapoctasin (buprenorphine), Medrone (methylprednisolone), Suprecur (buserelin), Testim (testosterone) and several skin preparations – Aknemycin Plus (erythromycin/tretinoin), Betnovate (betamethasone) and Eumovate (clobetasone).

Pressue on medicine supplies

Last month the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), which represents NHS pharmacies, said  it was becoming 'increasingly concerned about the sustained pressures on medicines supply and the very serious impact that this is having on community pharmacy teams and their patients'.

In a recent PSNC survey of over 5,000 pharmacies, two thirds of respondents said that medicines supply issues were now a daily occurrence, with 83% of pharmacies reporting that they had seen a significant increase in supply problems in the past year.

GPonline reported earlier this year that 'extraordinary demand' for HRT had led to shortages of Oestrogel, which had a knock-on effect on the availability of other oestrogen-only HRT products.

Useful resources on MIMS

Find out about drug shortages with the live MIMS drug shortages tracker.

GPs can use the MIMS HRT comparison table to find suitable alternative treatments to out-of-stock HRT.

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