Going the extra mile to supply patients

Stocks shortages Before we move on to new ideas, we need to implement the solutions that are already there to fix the supply chain, says Sue Sharpe

I'd like to share a true story with you. This was passed to PSNC and we've shared it with MPs because we thought they needed to see it. It's a story about medicines shortages. 

A contractor had a regular patient with a history of miscarriages who had been prescribed progesterone tablets when she fell pregnant to prevent this happening again. The contractor didn't have any in stock when she presented the prescription, so he contacted the wholesaler and then the manufacturer. Despite hours of work and no small amount of heartache, five days later the patient was still without her medicine.

Understandably, the patient was furious and frightened about what might happen if she missed a dose and her first thought was to blame the pharmacist. As far as she was concerned, her doctor had prescribed a medicine she needed to keep her baby alive and the pharmacist couldn't find it for her. It's a horrible situation, having to explain that problems elsewhere in the supply chain mean the patient will have to wait for their medicine, go elsewhere, or have their prescription changed.

All of us, including pharmacists, wholesalers and manufacturers, need to play our part in preventing and adapting to medicines shortages. It's good news that the all-party pharmacy group's inquiry is seeking to generate ideas on how to address the problem – manufacturers and wholesalers have legitimate points of view and interesting suggestions.

But before we move on to new ideas we need to implement the solutions that are already there. Last year, the supply chain worked with the Department of Health to develop best practice guidance, which dictates medicines should always reach pharmacies within 24 hours. Six days is not the same.

I'm sure most of you have had similar experiences; you know the best practice guidance hasn't been implemented and this is where we need to start, backed up with regulation if necessary.

When the same thing happened again to this contractor a few weeks later, he wasn't prepared to wait six days. He phoned around until he found a pharmacy with enough stock to fill their regular prescriptions and to help his patient, and drove five miles to pick it up there and then. A great example of pharmacies working together to put patients before profit and compensate for the inadequacies of the supply chain.

Stories like this make me suspicious of comments suggesting stopping pharmacies from trading 5 per cent of their turnover will prevent shortages. It's only because pharmacies can trade a small amount that this contractor was able to source the medicine his patient needed.

Let's start with 24-hour supply and let's give pharmacists the credit they deserve for the lengths they go to get medicines to patients.

Sue Sharpe, chief executive, PSNC

How have you and your patients been affected by stock shortages?

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