THE NHS is facing severe shortages of at least 13 common medications, including antibiotics, contraceptives and HRT.
A trade body representing medicine manufacturers and suppliers has raised the alarm over 'record' supply issues.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) institutes what's know as a serious shortage protocol (SSP) when it deems there is a serious shortage of a specific medicine.
They allow pharmacists to substitute your prescribed meds with an appropriate alternative if they can't get hold of the drugs you usually take.
Currently, there are three active SSPs in place for Estradot patches – a hormone replacement therapy treatment – and two different strengths of Clarithromycin, an antibiotic that's used to treat bacterial infections.
But the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA), a trade body representing manufacturers and suppliers of generic medicines, has warned that as many as 111 products are currently facing supply problems – though this doesn't necessarily mean they are in short supply.
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The BGMA said it uses data sources such as NHS England and the DHSC to put together a monthly dashboard that shows what UK medicine supply is like.
It warned that the number of products facing supply issues is "the highest on record" and double the amount recorded at the start of 2022.
Half of the products affected are generic drugs – these are non-branded products.
The drugs affected by supply problems according to the BGMA include:
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- hormone replacement therapies (HRT)
- anaphylaxis drugs
- ADHD medication
- Crohn’s disease medication
- diabetes medication
- drugs for lung conditions
- epilepsy medication
- acne medication
- osteoporosis medication
- heart disease drugs
- immunosuppressants – used following transplants
Mark Samuels, Chief Executive of the BGMA, said: “Supply issues for generic medicines are on the rise and patients are sadly being impacted, as they represent four out of five NHS prescriptions."
Meanwhile, a new report published by the Independent Commission on UK-EU relations warned that NHS patients face a “very worrying” risk due to “severe delays” in drugs supplies.
It said shortages have affected a number of medicines "across the board" since Brexit due to new regulatory barriers and costly paperwork involved in customs declarations.
Some of the UK’s regulatory processes for medicines are no longer valid in the EU, which creates extra delays and costs for the NHS.
It also means that NHS managers and pharmacists can't stockpile as many drugs, so they're more likely to run low.
Chief executive of Community Pharmacy England, Janet Morrison, said: “Medicine shortages and market instability appear to be as bad as they have ever been and are making life incredibly difficult for community pharmacies and their patients."
She cited also "the current war in Ukraine, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and broader economic instability" as factors contributing to medicine supply chain issues.
Should I be worried I won’t be able to get my medication?
Navin Khosla, Pharmacist at NowPatient, said: “Although no official statement has been made by the NHS, several news outlets have published articles which could indicate a drug shortage is happening in the UK, with Brexit being the main culprit."
He said shortages are said to include antibiotics, as well as ADHD and blood pressure medication, antidepressants and HRT.
When asked if we should be worried about being able to access our meds, Navin said: “The simple answer to this is no."
He added: "Between the relevant members of the government and NHS leaders, procedures are put in place to deal with any potential issues relating to drug shortages.
"At most, you may have a short delay in obtaining your medication, which is a frequent occurrence across the UK, but you should be back to normal after a few days."
But if you're still concerned about your prescription, he recommended three things you can do.
1. Speak to your pharmacist
Navin recommended you speak to your local pharmacist it you're concerned about a shortage of a medication you have been prescribed.
"They may be able to give you a smaller quantity while the rest of your prescription is on order, meaning you won’t miss out on taking your medication," he said.
2. Try an alternative pharmacy
"If your local pharmacy can’t provide you with the medication you require, then it’s important to remember that you can transfer to a different pharmacy as they may have the medication in stock," Navin went on.
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"It’s worth checking if they can provide you with the medication beforehand to save any confusion."
3. Get advice from your GP
Navin added: "If you are struggling to get your prescribed medication and have tried multiple pharmacies, it’s worth speaking to your GP and seeing if they can prescribe you a different course of medication until yours becomes available."
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