The government must take urgent action to resolve problems in the medicines supply chain because pharmacists believe patients are being harmed in three-quarters of cases of stock shortages, C+D has warned.
C+D is calling for the government to take a lead in finding a solution to stock shortages "once and for all", following a 12-month investigation into how the problem is affecting pharmacists and patients.
In a report, submitted to the Department of Health on Tuesday (November 26), C+D revealed that pharmacists were spending more time than they did in previous years trying to get hold of out-of-stock drugs and were battling with quota arrangements daily.
C+D news editor Gemma Collins submitted to the report on medicines shortages to the Department of Health on Tuesday (November 26)
More on stock shortages
Problems in the supply chain were having a "significant impact" on patients, the 22-page report argued, and patient suffering was on the increase, with pharmacists reporting harm in three-quarters of medicines shortage cases.
"C+D's findings prove that medicine shortages are having a significant impact on pharmacists' workload and on patients' health," the report said. "The sector has made it clear that urgent action is needed to resolve the problems within the supply chain, before the situation gets worse."
C+D has called for the government to retract pharmacy minister Earl Howe's statement that the current approach to medicines supply is "working well"; to recognise that patients are suffering as a result of stock shortages; and to revisit the solutions to supply problems that the all-party pharmacy group (APPG) put forward last year. It has asked the Department of Health to respond to its report within three months.
C+D launched its inquiry into stock shortages in November last year in response to Earl Howe's approval of the medicines supply chain. The pharmacy minister also told C+D in August that pharmacists needed to prove that patients were suffering harm as a result of shortages.
By examining the evidence collected over the past 12 months, C+D found that pharmacists were spending on average at least two working days a month calling manufacturers and wholesalers to try to get hold of out-of-stock medicines. They were going to such great lengths to source medicines that, in most cases, their patients were not aware that there were shortages, it found.
Of the respondents to C+D's Stocks Survey 2012, which received 371 responses between December 2012 and January 2013, 57 per cent said that at least one of their patients' health had suffered as a result of stock shortages, up from 45 per cent in 2011.
Extrapolating the results across the UK's 13,700 pharmacies, the health of more than 700,000 patients could have suffered as a result of stock shortages and pharmacies are likely to have been forced to turn away up to 1.2m patients in a year because they could not get hold of the medicines they needed.
Evidence collected through C+D's online reporting tool revealed nearly 200 cases of medicine shortages, involving more than 70 drugs, between August and November this year. In most cases, pharmacists reported that patients were moderately harmed because the pharmacy could not get hold of their medicines. In 12 per cent of cases, pharmacists felt that patients suffered severe harm.
Personal accounts from contractors affected by stock shortages were also included in the report. Miriam Blanchard, pharmacist at Well Street Pharmacy in Ruthin, North Wales, said it was "about time that someone at the highest level listened to the people [bearing] the brunt of this debacle and took some action".
Earl Howe said he would consider the report "carefully". "We know that stock shortages are of great concern to pharmacy teams and I am grateful to Chemist + Druggist and its readers for making this information available," he added.
Read the full report here.
C+D revealed the results of its report in a Twitter chat on Wednesday evening. See how it unfolded here.
How has your pharmacy been affected by stock shortages?