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Fuel shortages add to medicines supply chain’s ‘very fragile state’, wholesaler warns

The UK’s fuel situation and “chronic” labour shortages have left the medicines supply chain in a “very fragile state”, wholesaler Phoenix has told C+D.

As the UK continues to grapple with a national fuel supply challenge and driver shortages, concerns have been raised around how the UK’s medicines supply chain may be affected.

A spokesperson for Phoenix told C+D today (September 28) that, “due to the fuel situation and UK-wide chronic labour shortages, the medicines supply chain is in a very fragile state”.

“Through the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA), we continue to discuss with the government what support they could provide to avoid drug shortages.”

HDA executive director Martin Sawer told C+D today that the organisation is meeting with the government on a daily basis to secure priority access to fuel for the wholesalers’ distribution vehicles.

Phoenix has “implemented extensive measures, which have ensured continuity of supply to our customers with only minor short-term disruption recently to over-the-counter (OTC) orders”, the spokesperson added.

C+D reported earlier this month that Phoenix had suspended all orders for OTC items for a week’s time “to process a backlog of orders which has arisen due to staff shortages”.


BEIS: No disruptions to supply of medicines

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told C+D yesterday that “there are no disruptions or delays to the supply of medicines”.

The government has “long-standing contingency plans” in place “to ensure fuel supplies can be maintained and deliveries can still be made in the event of a serious disruption”, the spokesperson added.

However, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said in a statement yesterday that the supply of medicines is “undoubtedly worse now for some pharmacies”. It claimed that some pharmacies “were affected by missed deliveries” yesterday, “following events over the weekend”.

The Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck also told C+D yesterday that she had initially raised the issue of fuel shortages at an NHS England and NHS Improvement and Department of Health and Social Care roundtable two weeks ago, on September 14.

Dr Hannbeck had asked “what plans they had in place from their perspective to ensure pharmacies can continue caring for patients”.

Prior to the roundtable meeting, concerns had been raised about “potential delivery shortages” at the High Street Task Force meetings she attends, where she represents the community pharmacy sector.

“Pharmacy has to be prioritised,” Dr Hannbeck added. “Plans will have to be in place to ensure patient care is not affected as we enter the busy winter and Christmas period.”


Driver shortages continue

A spokesperson for Alliance Healthcare told C+D that it is “working with all stakeholders on various initiatives to mitigate any potential impact to our normal operating schedule. We are truly grateful to our operational colleagues and drivers at this time, for their personal efforts, as we strive for business-as-usual service.

“Driver shortages continue across the country, but we are seeing success from our continued recruitment drive. New drivers are joining regularly and are being trained quickly and efficiently across the network,” they added.

Meanwhile, AAH told C+D that while it is facing challenges with driver recruitment, it does not “rely on forecourts to supply fuel for our medicines distribution” and is therefore “not currently facing any issues with medicines supply to our customers”.

Both wholesalers told C+D in August that staff absences due to COVID-19 self-isolation requirements had had an impact on some of their deliveries. They told C+D at the time that they were working to onboard new delivery drivers.

Has your pharmacy experienced delays to medicine/product deliveries over the past six months?

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