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‘Out of stock’: Prices ‘sky high’ as cold and flu meds shortages persist

Pharmacists are seeing ongoing shortages of cold and flu medications, with various brands “out of stock” and prices “sky high”, they have told C+D.

Last month, C+D reported that pharmacists were struggling to get hold of medicines such as Lemsip amid a significant increase in demand for cold and flu treatments.

 

But the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) – which represents manufacturers of over-the-counter (OTC) medications – said at the time that there was no shortage of the medicines and manufacturers were “meeting” increased demand.

 

Read more: Cough and cold meds still ‘widely available’, manufacturers’ group claims

 

Now pharmacists have told C+D that the problems have persisted into this month.

 

One Newcastle pharmacist, who wished to remain anonymous, said they have “experienced a shortage in over-the-counter cold and flu meds”.

 

“There’s excess demand and we don’t have the stock”, they told C+D, adding that various brands are “out of stock”.

 

“Empty shelves”

 

“Night Nurse capsules, Lemsip, Night Nurse liquid, cough bottles, Covonia, Dioralyte – it’s all out of stock, out of stock, out of stock,” they claimed.

“We have a range of alternatives but it’s 50/50 as to whether we have to turn customers away.”

They added that it is “frustrating” because they are “losing money and this has been going on since late November” – and because when they “order the stock and get it in, nobody wants it”.

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

Superintendent pharmacist at Tollesbury Pharmacy in Malden, Dimple Bhatia, said he has also had “massive problems with OTC supply this year”.

He told C+D that he is “not able to readily get” common products including Dioralyte, Day & Night Nurse, generic ibuprofen liquid, Covonia and Robitussin cough mixtures, as well as chloramphenicol eye drops for conjunctivitis. 

“It is difficult spending an hour or so a day trying to source OTC products, which still show out of stock, we have empty shelves in some areas,” he said.

PAGB chief executive Michelle Riddalls  accepted "high demand" for OTC winter remedies "has continued to cause pressure on some community pharmacies to ensure supply can meet demand". 

 

However, "while some cough or cold products may be less readily available at some stores, this is likely to be local and very sporadic", she said.

 

Ms Riddalls added that manufacturers "are running to maximum capacity to meet consumer needs".

 

"While demand in these products remains high, they are still supplying these medicines and are not reporting any issues," she said. 

 

 

 

“Shocking” prices “across the board”

 

Mr Bhatia added that some wholesalers are “giving priority to prescription lines” so that “where stock has come in, [they] are only delivering OTC once a week”.

Meanwhile, “where stock is arriving, prices are sky high”, he said.

Read more: Strep A: Watchdog investigating ‘excessive’ antibiotics prices

The pharmacy is selling chloramphenicol eye ointment for £7.99, when three months ago the price was £3.99, he told C+D.

“Prices are shocking across the board,” he added.

And manager of Heath Pharmacy in Halifax Amanda Smith added that patients are trying multiple pharmacies to find medicines.

“We are struggling to get hold of most OTC cold and flu remedies,” she told C+D.

Read more: HRT patches ‘out of stock’ as DH issues six medicine shortage notifications

“We’ve had a lot of people coming in who have tried to get hold of them elsewhere and been unsuccessful,” she added.

The pharmacy has managed to “source a few different products” and has been able to “offer an alternative in most cases”, but people “are just having to try what we’ve got rather than being able to buy their brand of choice”, she said.

 

“Unprecedented demand”

 

A spokesperson for Thornton & Ross – which manufacturers Covonia cough medicines – said the company was “making every effort to supply Covonia and other winter remedies in line with [the] unprecedented level of demand”.

“The current winter season has significantly increased demand for many cough, cold and sore-throat remedies,” they said.

“We have increased production levels significantly and this will be sustained over the coming months, thereby ensuring that patients and pharmacy customers have access to the products they need”, they added.

And a spokesperson for Dioralyte manufacturer Sanofi told C+D that UK "supply chain challenges due to complex and interconnected global issues... unfortunately [mean] that some people may be finding that there is patchy availability of Dioralyte products".

"We are working hard to resolve this as quickly as possible, and in the meantime, we would encourage anyone who is concerned to consult a healthcare professional," they added.

C+D also approached Lemsip manufacturer Reckitt and Haleon – which manufactures Night Nurse, Day & Night Nurse and Robitussin – for comment.

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