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PDA members highlight pressures relating to medicines supply issues

PDA members recently participated in a survey during the week before Christmas 2022 at the height of challenges around medicines availability, some of the PDA’s findings were featured in a recent Health Service Journal article about shortages.

Tue 7th March 2023 The PDA

The PDA has been hearing from pharmacists in the community pharmacy sector about the challenges they are facing in fulfilling prescriptions for some of the most common medicines, including antibiotics. The issue has been covered widely in the national media in recent weeks as many patients have had difficulty accessing medicines, including those prescribed for children as pharmacies experienced stock shortages.

Whilst at this time of year the incidence of infections and illnesses can be heightened, demand has been seemingly higher than usual. The PDA surveyed its members between 22 December and 28 December 2022 to hear more about how the situation has been impacting them and the patients in their care.

The top-line findings of the PDA’s research include:

  • Over 75% of respondents reported seeing a dramatic increase in patients coming to the pharmacy for advice this winter compared to previous years.
  • When asked about the types of issues that people are asking for help and advice about, most respondents highlighted that advice and treatment for seasonal coughs and colds, and concern from parents about children with viral illnesses and possible infections were the main reasons. Patients having difficulty accessing other parts of the health service for help was seen as a contributory factor.
  • 62% said that they had seen a significant increase in the number of prescription items being prescribed with one member describing how, “during the pandemic, we dispensed very few antibiotics. It has increased dramatically over the last 4 weeks, now we are supplying a week’s worth every day”.
  • Pharmacists were asked about how easily they find it to ensure they have the required range of prescription medication in the dispensary. All respondents have had some difficulty to varying degrees.

When asked what kinds of medicines were difficult to obtain, 99.7% of respondents said common antibiotics, and 82.25% said that sourcing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and oral contraceptives were also problematic. Painkillers were also highlighted by over 120 respondents as an area of concern. Issues were identified around certain formulations, quantities, and specific medicines within the respective group.

Almost 94% of respondents said that formulations for children, such as liquid antibiotics were a particular problem, as demand quickly outstripped supply following a seemingly dramatic increase in viral and bacterial infections among children.

Time taken to source medicines takes away resources from patient care

  • Pharmacists reported that they are spending a variable amount of their day sourcing medicines for patients. Most respondents (7 out of 10) are spending between 1 and 4 hours a day trying to find stock with over 8% taking more than 4 hours a day to resolve stock shortages.
  • 97% say that patients are worried and anxious about getting their medication, and 81% of pharmacists completing the survey had experienced patients taking their frustration about medicines availability out on them.

Whilst many PDA members will be not responsible for the procurement of medicines in the pharmacies where they work, the survey asked what they thought the contributory factors were to the issue of medicines supply. Demand outstripping supply (82%), wholesaler quotas and availability (75%), and manufacturer issues (72%) were highlighted as the key reasons.

In the survey, pharmacists were also asked what they wanted to happen to resolve supply issues. 84% called for better management of the medicines supply chain overall and 81% said they needed better communication and transparency from suppliers.

The causes of medicines stock issues are multifaceted, however, pharmacists are seeking transparency and acknowledgement of supply challenges from the government, along with the adoption of practical solutions at an early stage when shortages occur. This is so that they can guide patients and other healthcare professionals on the best course of action.

Extracts from the PDA research were published by the HSJ on 26 January 2023.

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