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Government's medicines shortages group has not met since 2016

Exclusive
The Supply Chain Group met an average of more than four times a year in 2013-14
The Supply Chain Group met an average of more than four times a year in 2013-14

The government group set up to look into shortages across the medicines supply chain has not met since spring 2016, C+D has exclusively revealed.

The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) Medicines Supply Chain Group was set up in 2009 to bring together pharmacy, manufacturing and wholesaler bodies to “exchange information regarding medicine supply issues arising from parallel trade”.

Representatives from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA), the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) – among others – have all attended previous meetings.

However, the group has not had any meetings in the past two years, a C+D investigation using a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request has revealed.

The GPhC said it had not been part of the group since September 2016, while the RPS said it had not attended any meetings for “some time”, although it would “be happy” to attend future events if invited.

In 2013-14, the group met an average of more than four times a year to discuss ways to improve communication with pharmacists about medicines shortages, the use of buffer stocks, and how information about quotas could be made clearer.

Why did the meetings stop?

Explaining why the meetings ceased, the DH told C+D: “The vast majority of medicine shortages [we are] currently managing are due to manufacturing and regulatory problems, which fall outside the remit of the Supply Chain Group.”

“If new problems arise within the remit of the group, it will reconvene.”

HDA chief executive Martin Sawer added: “The terms of reference of the group solely concern branded medicines supply issues – not generics supply – identified by the pharmacy bodies represented in the group.”

No group dedicated to generic shortages

When asked by C+D whether the DH had set up a similar group tasked with looking into the ongoing generics shortages affecting pharmacies, it said: “There is a DH medicine team responsible for medicines shortages and its number one priority is to ensure that patients have access to safe and effective medicines.

“In order to address wider supply issues, the DH continues to meet extensively with individual trade associations, companies and NHS organisations on individual supply issues.”

PSNC also told C+D it has “been in constant dialogue with the DH about medicines shortages (branded or generic) that we receive reports on”.

DH chief commercial officer Steve Oldfield told a Public Accounts Committee hearing last month that he had “personally met with the five main wholesalers” in October 2017 to “gain some insight” on what led to last year’s generics supply and pricing issues.

In response to a separate FOI investigation by C+D last month, the DH refused to reveal which wholesalers made “unexpected” profits from increases in generics prices at a time of sector-wide shortages, claiming it would “prejudice” their commercial interests. Read more here.

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