NHS Dangerously Low on Lifesaving Medicines

According to documents seen by the Guardian, the NHS are running out of important medicines to treat heart problems, cancer and epilepsy.

An internal 24-page report sent to some doctors last Friday from the medicine supply team at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), titled “commercial-sensitive”, listed many of the drugs in short supply at the NHS.

DThe document warned: “This information is confidential to the NHS, please do not upload to websites in the public domain.”

Within the document lay an astonishing 17 new drug shortages highlighted last week, such as those for cancer, Parkinson’s, mental health problems and some eye conditions.

Moreover, there are still issues occurring with 69 different types and doses of medication including antibiotics for tuberculosis, diamorphine, various cancer drugs, heart condition drugs, Hepatitis vaccines and anti-epilepsy drugs.

A further eight drugs have actually been discontinued, but supply issues with over 20 drugs suffering with previous shortages have now been resolved according to the document.

Due to the shocking shortage of many licensed medicines, in certain scenarios unlicensed versions may be imported the document adds, although “lead times vary”.

Although shortages of some drugs have been reported previously, some health professionals say the scale and scope of the problems identified in the list obtained by the Guardian was “alarming”.

The document also informed doctors that certain patients would have to be prioritised over others for particular lifesaving drugs and even suggested breaking tablets in half as a way to cope with declining supplies.

Some treatments may have alternatives that could be prescribed, but others do not. Moreover, changing a patient’s medicine from one to another is not always safe and would need further clinical supervision, something difficult for doctors often overstretched as it is.

Dr Nick Mann, a GP in Hackney in London, said: “This situation is absolutely unprecedented. Previously we would have one or two or three drugs that would go offline for a while, but this is something on a different level. It is going to render the day-to-day treatments that doctors provide very difficult.”

The report described one drug for stomach and pancreatic cancer which has no date for resupply provided by the manufacturer and “no alternative supplies of UK licensed [drugs] … are available to support this gap in supply. You may wish to consider the following as a priority: patients completing a course of treatment and those already booked for surgery.”

Regarding procyclidine, a Parkinson’s drug said to be out of stock until March 2020 at the earliest, the document advised doctors to “consider sharing remaining stock locally with the support of your regional procurement lead”.

For a type of eye drops that are currently unavailable the document stated that the Royal College of Opthalmologists “has provided clinical guidance to support local prioritisation of remaining supplies”.

In the case of Relpax, a migraine drug, which is in short supply, there was a recommendation to break the higher dose tablets in half although the document admitted “there are no data on halving or crushing them to deliver a 20mg dose”.

Rachel Cooper, the director of the health initiative at the anti-corruption network Transparency International, said: “Shortages of medicines risk price distortion at the expense of health budgets, disrupt patient drug regimes and can undermine public health objectives. The public deserves full transparency of pricing structures and the reasons for and financial implications of drug shortages.”

Mann added: “The scale and scope of this list from DHSC of currently unavailable prescription medicines is extremely alarming. Beyond Brexit stockpiling and manufacturing diversions, and parallel exporting, there appears to be a change in pharma companies’ behaviour causing a potentially dangerous level of instability in previously reliable, standard treatments.

“This massive increase in supply failure is new, and the reasons for it need to be urgently identified and addressed to prevent inevitable harms to patients. Some treatments, like those for epilepsy, are not interchangeable. Such shortages will have a high risk of harm to patients.”

Dr Tony O’Sullivan, a retired paediatrician and the co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public, said: “The Health Department’s guidance includes an unprecedented list of drugs unavailable or in short supply. Patients and clinicians alike should be on high alert when the advice includes how to ‘share stocks’ to make them last, to ‘prioritise’ patients already on specific treatments including cancer rather than a new patient and effectively how to ration so many vital drugs. Drug companies’ behaviour must be controlled. We must urgently protect the NHS from further risks of loss of control of drug prices and supplies from trade deals with the USA and that requires returning it to a wholly public service.”

A spokesman at the Association for the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: “For new on-patent medicines there is an agreement between the government and pharmaceutical companies to cap NHS spending growth on branded medicines at 2%, with anything over this paid back to the government. Manufacturers know that any medicine shortage is extremely worrying for the people affected by it and they do everything they can to prevent medicine supply problems occurring and to resolve them quickly if they do happen.”

Related Posts - MSC News

This entry was posted in General Health News. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.