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Government watchdog will not investigate stock shortages

The Competition and Markets Authority says it decided not to investigate medicines shortages because it has other priorities

There is not enough “persuasive evidence" about stock shortages to justify a formal investigation into the issue, the government's competition watchdog has said.

Despite receiving "concerns" about shortages in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has decided not to look into the issue further "on the grounds of administrative priorities", it announced today (December 11). 

The watchdog revealed in August it was making "preliminary enquiries" into stock shortages using reports compiled by C+D in 2012 and 2013.

While it accepted shortages can be "potentially harmful or distressing for the patient concerned", the CMA's enquiries had not found evidence that a "significant proportion" of shortages were caused by factors originating in the UK. It was also not the "best-placed organisation" to investigate any issues that did come from the UK, it said.

The watchdog may carry out "further work" on stock shortages in the future if its priorities change, it added.

CMA's findings
  • The watchdog found "little evidence to suggest" that the direct-to-pharmacy distribution model is "contributing significantly" to shortages.
  • While it has "no estimates" about how much medicine the UK exports, the CMA said parallel exporting is "less likely" to lead to shortages than in the past, possibly due to changes in the Pound-Euro exchange rate and the impact of manufacturers' quotas.
  • Quotas applied "inflexibly" by manufacturers "may contribute to shortages or impact the ability of pharmacists to receive medicines on a timely basis", the CMA said. 
  • Shortages caused by parallel exporting or quotas may be "short-term" in nature and "relatively easy" to address, because there is often still stock available somewhere in the UK market, it said.

In its 2013 report, which was submitted to the Department of Health, C+D found that readers spent an average of two working days a month trying to source out-of-stock medicines.

How often do stock shortages impact on your patients?

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