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Government sets up response group to tackle medicines shortages

The government has set up a group chaired by NHS England's deputy chief pharmacist to advise on serious medicines shortages.

The Medicine Shortage Response Group was established in January to provide guidance to the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) medicine supply team and NHS commercial medicines unit – which looks at medicine supply and procurement in hospitals – on “individual, critical” medicines supply issues, the DH told C+D earlier this month (April 5).

The group meets on a fortnightly basis, and for additional “urgent” meetings if the case should arise, the DH added.

It is chaired by NHS England’s deputy chief pharmaceutical officer Bruce Warner and members include clinical commissioning groups, the DH’s principal pharmacist Sarah McAleer, and NHS England’s national patient safety director (see more below).

An equivalent Scottish group has also been established, led by the country’s chief pharmaceutical officer Rose Marie Parr.

Ms Parr and Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said the group is “playing a key role in ensuring the NHS in Scotland is positioned to both influence and act on local, regional and national shortages and communicate any associated actions in a timely fashion, to enable policy decisions to be made and to ensure implementation at pace”.

The response groups for England and Scotland will be “working closely together to identify, assess and respond to shortages”, Ms Parr and Ms Calderwood said in a joint letter published last month, updating medicines supply preparations in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Pharmacists’ shortages powers

The groups have been established amid ongoing medicines supply concerns, including over naproxen, which C+D readers have complained has been plagued by shortages for months.

The DH told C+D it is unable to discuss specific medicines that the response groups may look into, as it has committed to treating all information it receives as confidential.

In February, the DH implemented the Human Medicines (Amendment) Regulations 2019 order, which includes provisions to allow pharmacists to dispense an alternative in accordance with a “serious shortage protocol” – rather than the prescription and without contacting the GP – that could be announced by the government in the event of a national medicines shortage.

When asked by C+D whether the medicines response groups are responsible for developing the framework to consider the suitability of a protocol, the DH said: “Work on putting the serious shortage legislation into operation, including governance processes and the role of the Medicines Shortage Response Group, is ongoing.”

England's Medicines Shortage Response Group members

  • Deputy chief pharmaceutical officer – Bruce Warner, chair of the group
  • DH medicines supply team
  • DH principal pharmacist – Sarah McAleer
  • NHS England's commercial medicines unit, which looks at medicine supply and procurement in hospitals
  • NHS England and Improvement's* national patient safety director – Dr Aidan Fowler
  • NHS England and Improvement's* primary care contracts team
  • NHS England and Improvement's* medical directorate – led by Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director
  • NHS England and Improvement's* pharmacy and medicines optimisation team
  • Representatives from the "regional structure"
  • Clinical commissioning groups
  • Devolved administrations
  • Specialist Pharmacy Service (SPS), a group of around 100 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and support staff who "support medicines optimisation across the NHS"

*As of April 1, NHS England and NHS Improvement act as a single organisation.

Source: Department of Health and Social Care, April 2019

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