FSJ News Updates,
Millions of people around the world who take certain common medicines may find it more difficult to get their normal prescriptions. It comes after pharmacies in the UK, US and Europe all reported shortages of a wide variety of medicines, including those often prescribed for menopause, dementia, depression and pain.
There are many reasons why pharmaceutical supply chain disruptions occur, including manufacturing issues, supplier and price changes, increased demand, stockpiling and panic buying. For example, both reduced supply and increasing demand may partially explain why hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products have recently faced shortages.
There is no clear root cause for current global drug shortages, and each country will face different supply challenges. But factors such as the pandemic, Brexit, reduced supplies from overused supply routes (such as India) and the Ukraine conflict are all having far-reaching impacts on the availability of medicines.
But disruptions in the supply chain can be more than a minor inconvenience for patients trying to get their prescriptions. This could potentially lead to delays in patient treatment and even deaths.
People who can’t get their usual prescription can try switching medicines, accessing products online or even buying them without a prescription. Not only can this be more expensive, but it can also put patients at risk of adverse effects.
When supplies are limited, pharmacy staff will attempt to obtain supplies from suppliers or other pharmacies. Where an alternative product already exists, pharmacy staff will contact the GP to change the prescriptions to give to patients. But patients should be informed if their medication is changed to avoid confusion and any negative side effects.
When major product deficiencies are reported, Serious Deficiency Protocols may be enacted. These help pharmacies manage drug shortages without having to refer patients back to the prescriber. For example, if these protocols are legislated, pharmacists can supply alternative products (if the patient agrees) or adjust the quantity of the prescription – eg giving patients only one month’s supply at a time.
Manufacturers are also required by law to report supply interruptions to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. This information is fed into a drug supply tool that advises healthcare professionals on supply issues, actions to be taken, alternatives to use and expected resolution dates. Community pharmacy staff and GPs will also report any product shortages to government agencies and patients.
While some may argue that patients should not be involved in accessing their own medication, it can be very helpful when there is a shortage. Here are some things you can do if it’s getting harder to get medicine.
If you take a certain medication repeatedly, you can request your prescriptions before your current supply runs out. There are also online resources you can check that will tell you if your medications are affected by a shortage and what you can do about it.
If your local pharmacy does not have your medication, you can try to find the medication at other pharmacies before having to change the prescription to an alternative product.
You can also work with your GP or pharmacist to better understand what is happening and what you can do. If you can’t make an appointment with your GP or speak to your local pharmacist team in person, there are apps that allow direct messaging. This can help clear up any confusion and allow you to discuss any concerns you may have.
It is worth noting that product changes in the community pharmacy are only allowed if there are severe shortage protocols. There are currently serious shortage protocols for only 16 medicines in the UK – mainly those used as hormone replacement therapy. These protocols are enacted only if a serious shortage of a specific drug has been declared.
Drug shortages are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. It is therefore important that you talk to your pharmacist or GP about any concerns you have, how the shortage affects your supply of medicines and what action you may need to take. It is important that you do not use an alternative medicine without talking to your pharmacist, nurse or doctor to avoid unwanted side effects.