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Medicines availability and the added pressure on pharmacists

The PDA supports the appointment of a Tsar by the Secretary of State for Health in England to urgently look at the issue of medicines shortages and start implementing measures to address the problem.

Fri 29th April 2022 The PDA

The PDA also encourages the government to closely look at all the contributory factors around medicines availability, from manufacture to the supply chain to ensure that shortages can be prevented and ensure continued patient care.

The issue of the availability of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to treat the symptoms of menopause is featured regularly in the media. Current shortages are causing concern for many women struggling to access their prescription medicines. The PDA welcomes the increase in awareness around menopause and the true impact that this has on women’s health and wellbeing. The PDA NAWP (National Association of Women Pharmacists) Network has previously spoken on this matter to raise awareness about what this means for pharmacists in their workplace. The increase in understanding of the issue of menopause has led to an uplift in demand on an already strained supply chain, which was further compounded by manufacturing issues and Covid-19. This makes it difficult for prescribers and pharmacists involved to provide continued patient care.

Pharmacists tend to be well-equipped to manage short-term shortages of medicines by looking at alternative suppliers, and/or suggesting an alternative to be prescribed. Although these options take time to investigate, pharmacists will always try their best with any medicine shortage alongside their already heavy workload. However, this becomes more challenging when they have to face angry and upset patients who may believe pharmacists are to blame. The PDA understands the frustration of patients and how this is unfair on them, but it is important to be aware that pharmacists are not directly responsible for medicine shortages. This is a complex issue tied to the upstream manufacturers, suppliers, and wholesalers in a post-Brexit trading environment. The pharmacist’s options to try and remedy the problem are also limited by the resources they have available to them, such as by being tied into restrictive wholesale arrangements.

Even if the pharmacist can identify a suitable alternative medication, it can be challenging to contact the prescriber as they have to call the surgery via the usually busy patient line. This adds to the demands of the already intense pharmacist workload. It is for this reason that the PDA has long promoted and supported the idea of a more integrated healthcare system to empower pharmacists to have access to the necessary resources and allow for a more efficient workflow to improve patient care.

Nonetheless, in this situation, these usual options have become incredibly limited as the supply problem has grown over time. The appointment of a Tsar by the Department of Health and Social Care to address the issue of medicines shortages as a matter of urgency is welcomed and the availability of resources available to them as outlined in the guidance ‘Reporting Requirements for Medicines Shortages and Discontinuations should enable them to identify the causes and ease the levels of concern this issue imposes on patients.

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