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9 DH meetings in 2 years to try to sort shortages

The meetings have been "very instructive" for stakeholders, says the BAPW's Martin Sawer

The meetings between the Department of Health and pharmacy and manufacturing bodies have improved relations within the supply chain, says BAPW chief executive Martin Sawer


The government held nine group meetings with pharmacy and manufacturing bodies to discuss medicines shortages in 2013 and 2014, a C+D investigation has revealed.

The Department of Health’s (DH) supply chain forum held five meetings in 2013 and four meetings the following year, it told C+D in response to a Freedom of Information request. Meetings were attended by representatives from the MHRA, PSNC, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW) and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) among others, it said.

The group discussed ways to improve communication with pharmacists about medicines shortages, the use of buffer stocks, and how information about quotas could be made clearer, according to minutes seen by C+D.

The DH provided C+D with minutes for eight of the nine meetings it held across the two years. Minutes from its meeting in November 2014 had not yet been cleared for distribution, it said.

BAPW chief executive Martin Sawer told C+D this week that the meetings had been “very instructive” for the stakeholders who had attended. While he admitted progress on reducing shortages “could be quicker”, communication across the supply chain had improved as a result of the meetings, which was a “positive benefit”, he said.

Mike Hewitson, owner of Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset, told C+D it was right the DH held meetings to discuss problems with stocks. But it needed to start holding stakeholders “to account for their actions” if they resulted in shortages. 

What was discussed?

Quotas: Stakeholders discussed how quotas were “not always flexible enough to meet patient demand”. The BAPW said wholesalers felt having national quotas would help them allocate medicines more effectively. More flexibility around when quotas started each month would also reduce shortages, it advised.

Improving communication: A BAPW working party met with the NPA and PSNC in the first half of 2013 to discuss creating simple explanations for why medicines were unavailable that could be “harmonised between all wholesalers”. By July 2014, PSNC had backed a set of BAPW codes that provided this information.

Managing stock shortages: The group worked on best practice guidance for manufacturers, but by May 2014 the ABPI admitted this had run into “legal issues”. The group agreed that the planned document should be replaced by recently-published guidance by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations. The MHRA said the guidance was a “step in the right direction”.

Source: DH meeting minutes 

Have the DH's meetings made a difference to stock shortages?

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Mustafa Bhaiji, Superintendent Pharmacist

Perhaps just as important as the communication with pharmacists being improved, I think it is also vital for the manufacturers to feed this information to GPs via their system providers. At the end of the day, if the GPs are reminded on their computer systems that the item is currently unavailable, it'll save pharmacy teams plenty of phone calls to advise the GPs to change scripts. This in itself is quite a time consuming exercise especially when the receptionists think they know better than the pharmacists! If this happens already, then I believe the communication system must be poor as we repeatedly see GPs prescribing products that are discontinued or long term out of stock.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

Still major problems with stock shortages - this week we cannot obtain Metoject in any strength and there is no information about when stocks may be available again - not a lot of help to patients depending on a weekly injection. Sno-tears have disappeared until October but at least we can obtain Liquifilm at the moment.

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