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Opinion: Even the cleverest analysis will only prolong the medicine shortage

It’s been a while since I was dragged in front of the B-word, but thanks to the medicine shortage, here we are. Remember those grotesque days in 2016? All those odious ageing chancers on the make. What a cast of horrors. 

I’ll spare you the reminders, you know who they are. They carry the mark of Brexit with them wherever they go. But annoyingly, so do the rest of us.

The UK voted to leave the EU nine years ago. Most people would say the benefits are yet to really kick in. But nine years is plenty of thinking time for a government to implement preventative measures to protect the robustness of its most vital supply chains. 

Evidently it hasn't, but then again any sort of consistency in personnel would have helped. As well as a succession of pharmacy ministers, there have been seven health ministers since 2016, including five quickfire turns since Matt Hancock resigned in 2021.

Read more: ‘New normal’ of medicine shortages a ‘significant burden on pharmacists’

Were any of them expected to implement systemic change to medicines procurement? Or make strides increasing MHRA approval? Crack the substitutions riddle? Increase domestic manufacturing? Give a boost to the value of sterling? Increase the size of the UK to make it more attractive to the global drugs market? One of them was only in the job for 50 days.

I don’t envy the next government. Labour’s infamous ‘there is no money’ note was left for the incoming chancellor nearly 15 years ago. If it is elected, Labour might wish they had it so good.

At least it has a clear directive when it comes to medicine. Urgent action is required, not another assessment of the damage.

Read more: Pharmacists altering prescriptions could ‘exacerbate’ shortages, says minister

This latest report is authoritative. It could also be viewed as forensically detailed mootness. But it does conclude by echoing that call for action in salient (and self-aware) fashion.

Fearing more ill-thought out health-related policy and lame execution to come, it warns of future commitments to healthcare being left “on paper only, rather than being practically implemented to the benefit of the NHS, patients, and the population as a whole.”

Airing the very real concern that nothing tangible will be done to address this issue on a practical level rather than a theoretical one might be the smartest line in the whole report.






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