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‘Empty shelves’: Pharmacies flag cold and flu med supply issues as demand spikes

Pharmacists have reported struggling to get hold of medicines such as Lemsip amid a significant increase in demand for cold and flu treatments.

Community pharmacists and the public have taken to social media over the last few days to warn of difficulties accessing the medicines.

One contractor said they “can’t get basics” such as Night Nurse and Lemsip, while Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich local pharmaceutical committee said pharmacies were “sold out of all cold remedies” over Christmas.

Lemsip's manufacturer Reckitt told C+D it is doing its best to "minimise disruption" to customers amid surging demand for the product. C+D has also contacted Night Nurse's manufacturer Haleon for comment.

Meanwhile, Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies CEO Leyla Hannbeck highlighted “empty shelves in pharmacies” as “supply is struggling to meet the demand” for common flu medicines.

She said: “The medicines supply concerns continue.

“For months we’ve asked [the Department of Health and Social Care] to hold stakeholder discussions to suggest solutions and plan better, but no action yet. Why?” 

And a Boots spokesperson admitted to C+D that some of its branches may face “temporary shortages” of Lemsip.

They told C+D: “We have seen higher than usual demand for Lemsip. There is still availability in many of our stores, and although there may be temporary shortages in some, there will normally be suitable alternatives available.

“If in doubt, customers should speak to their pharmacist for advice on alternatives.”

The spokesperson added that customers can “check product availability at stores near them” via the multiple’s website.

“We also encourage people to minimise the risk of winter viruses by making sure they have had their flu jab and COVID-19 booster, if eligible,” they said.

C+D also approached Lloydspharmacy, Tesco, Asda, Rowlands and Superdrug for comment.


Lemsip manufacturer “doing all we can”


Lemsip manufacturer Reckitt told C+D it is “seeing significantly increased demand” and is “doing all [it] can”.

A spokesperson said: “We are seeing significantly increased demand during the current cold and flu season. We are doing all we can to minimise disruption to our customers and consumers.”


COVID-19 and flu “twindemic”


It comes as NHS England has warned that its fears of a COVID-19 and flu “twindemic” have “been realised”.

Official data released on Friday (December 30) revealed that cases of flu in hospital are now more than seven times higher than last month.

It showed there were 3,746 patients a day in hospital with flu the previous week, compared with 520 the previous month and only 34 patients in hospital with flu at the same time last year.

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “Sadly, these latest flu numbers show our fears of a ‘twindemic’ have been realised, with cases up seven-fold in just a month and the continued impact of COVID-19 hitting staff hard, with related absences up almost 50% on the end of November.”

Meanwhile, pharmacists have also faced struggles with mounting demand for antibiotics used to treat strep A, with the government issuing eight serious shortage protocols allowing pharmacists to supply alternative penicillin medicines last month.

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