Survey sheds light on scale of drug shortages in UK

Survey sheds light on scale of drug shortages in UK

A study has found that more than 5 million people in the UK have had to visit multiple pharmacies to get their prescriptions filled, and almost one in 10 had to travel more than 10 miles outside their local area.

The survey commissioned by supply chain specialist 7bridges found that 11% of patients reported being unable to get their medicine at their local pharmacy in the last 12 months, with some areas of the country even worse affected. In Greater London, for example, that figure rose to 17%.

The poll was carried out amid a series of medicine shortages that have affected the UK, including hormone replacement therapy, cough and cold products, and some antibiotics, which have come against a backdrop of supply issues around the world.

Another study carried out by the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (EU) in the last quarter of 2022 found that all 29 EU member states polled had experienced shortages among community pharmacies, and three-quarters of them said these were worse than the prior year.

Reasons for the disruption are reported to include manufacturing constraints, issues with raw materials production in source countries like India and China, and even the soaring price of glass bottles used in packaging.

In the UK, the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP) said last December that a shortage of amoxicillin was particularly worrying amid a surge in streptococcal infections among children.

“Access to medicines in one’s local area is something all of us expect as standard,” said Philip Ashton, chief executive and co-founder of 7bridges.

“Supply issues and the logistics problems that exacerbate them have caused difficulties across a number of sectors but, when it comes to people’s prescriptions or access to antibiotics, ensuring easy access is a must.”

The survey also found that nearly half (47%) of UK adults agree with the statement that businesses could be doing more to prevent the level of supply chain disruption the UK is experiencing. And 25% believe pharmacies are most affected by current supply chain issues, despite the food shortages hitting consumers earlier this year.

When asked how they feel when pharmacies or retailers continue to cite supply chain issues for their shortages, 21% of respondents said there were “let down”, and 11% said they were “angry”.

According to the NHS, serious shortage protocols (SSPs) are currently in place for four medicines in the UK – two HRT therapies and two antibiotic products based on clarithromycin – which is down from more than 16 at the start of the year.