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Minister challenges pharmacists to prove harm from stock shortages

Exclusive Pharmacy minister Earl Howe has reiterated his defence of the government’s approach to medicines supply and called on pharmacists to prove that shortages are causing patient harm, in an exclusive interview with C+D.

Pharmacy minister Earl Howe has reiterated his defence of the government's approach to medicines supply and called on pharmacists to prove that shortages are causing patient harm, in an exclusive interview with C+D.

It was "frustrating in the extreme" for pharmacists who have to struggle day to day with managing shortages, sourcing alternative suppliers or trying to source a medicine when there is no supply, Earl Howe said last week (July 30).

However, he added that the supply chain "does generally work very smoothly". "I think our overall approach is the right one and the key is to work closely with the supply chain," he said.

"We've asked pharmacists for any serious examples of serious harm befalling the patient, as opposed to inconvenience"

Earl Howe, pharmacy minister

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The Department of Health's medicines supply chain group continued to review the information on shortages that it receives from PSNC and Pharmacy Voice, Earl Howe said. This system of information sharing was "working well" and the "vast majority" of these shortage problems were "managed away" on a day-to-day basis, he said.

However, he was surprised to hear that 57 per cent of respondents to C+D's Stocks Survey 2012 felt shortages had harmed at least one of their patients. Pharmacists should gather evidence that shortages were causing patients harm and send it to one of the pharmacy bodies, Earl Howe said.

If pharmacists were able to prove that patients were suffering serious harm as a result of shortages, then the government would be in a better position to improve the situation, he said.

"We've asked pharmacists for any serious examples of serious harm befalling the patient, as opposed to inconvenience, which of course we know occurs," he said. "It is important for us to understand who is being harmed and what is the nature of that harm. Then it's easier for us to compile a better picture nationally."

Earl Howe admitted that there could be merit in the government's supply chain group being more transparent about its work, but it might be best "not to throw a light on absolutely everything that's going on", he added.

Pharmacy leaders hit back at Earl Howe in November last year when he told the all-party pharmacy group that the government's approach to shortages was "working well". He was also "not aware" of the shortages causing patient harm, he said at the time.

Look out later this week for a set of tools C+D is supplying to help you record instances of patient harm, which we will then present to the government later in the year.

Read C+D's exclusive interview with Earl Howe here.

What instances of patient harm resulting from stock shortages have you seen in your pharmacy?

Comment below or email us at [email protected] You can also find C+D on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook


A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

Lets see, Earl Howe's CV - Barclays Bank manager and director of some Art Gallery. Tell you what, when I need advice on a minor ailment, I'll just pop down to my local art gallery and ask someone there.*

*This comment has been edited - C+D

Ahmed El-Dabbagh, Community pharmacist

Another advice to the Minster. He could go to any computer in any pharmacy and look at the order pad and read the messages from wholsaler,
Manufacter can't suppy
medicin expected in 2015
restricted supply
SDF. God knows what this means
reorder again and again and again
you reach your quota

Keith McElrea, Pharmaceutical Adviser

It's not Pharmacy's job to prove that shortages are doing harm, we know they are and we've told them as an industry, loud and clear.

If they feel we are wrong, it's the governments job to prove that they aren't and to answer the questions when fatalities occur . Pharmacy has provided ample evidence which Govt. has chosen to ignore. Under this and previous Ministers, the basic facts are that there haven't been the available funds required to rectify the problem so we've had one after another sticking their heads in the sand and pretending the problem doesn't exist.

'I'm not looking, so I can't see it, so it's not there!'

Ahmed El-Dabbagh, Community pharmacist

Is he waiting for someone to die first in order to realise how much the shortage of medicines is damaging?
I have several cases wher patient had to be admited to hospital due to delay of medicines. That increases the cost of treatment.
Is he thinking that we are just making this up? why would we make it up for?. We suppose to have duty of care towards patient and by making sure that patient get his medicine on time is part of this duty. If he trust that we are doing our job professionally why he wont listen to our complain?. He is not taking us seriously.I am sure many patient will be disappointed with his remarks.
Why dont he stay in any Pharmacy for one day and see for himself rather than accusing us indirectly of lying ? Sorry I have to go now. I am trying to order Depo-medrone injection 80mg for a patient. I have been trying to get it for over a week there is a short supply.

Ian Kemp, Community pharmacist

Ahmed you have the evidence that Earl Howe is looking for. If your patients have been admitted to hospital as a result of delay in getting medicines have you sent that evidence to anyone? Your local LPC or PSNC directly might be a start. Earl Howe is one of the [ few ] good guys as far as supporting pharmacists is concerned but pharmacists have to help him help pharmacists. We would be far better off supporting him than knocking him.

Ahmed El-Dabbagh, Community pharmacist

Why shoudn't we knock him?. every pharmacists, doctors and patients in the country know there is short of medicines exept him. Does he live in this country or somewher else.
Is it not his job to know in advance about this problem?
This problem is like an elephant in the room everyone sees it exept him.
If he dosn't know about it at last he shouldn't deny its existence. He should have the resources to help him to find out what happen in the country or perhaps he could contact the wholesalers, the manifacturers or perhaps visit a Pharmacy or talk to doctors or any patient.
why he is in a complete denial?
Perhaps for political reason

Ahmed El-Dabbagh, Community pharmacist

I still can't get Depo-medrone 80mg injection and the patient still in pain and the minster still deny the existence of shortage.

Niall Hunt, Digital content editor, Chemist+Druggist

Hi Ahmed, you can use C+D's stock shortages tool to tell us about it. We are gathering data as part of out Sort out Stocks campaign.

The tool can be found at the right hand side of this article



Ahmed El-Dabbagh, Community pharmacist

I forget to add the poor patient is in constant pain and he is waiting for the injection. I wonder if the Minster would consider this harm to the patient?

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

I wonder who will carry the can at the point a patient is hospitalised (or worse!) as a result of stock shortages? Bet it won't be Howe

Rajeshvari Patel, Community pharmacist

Yes, let's all stop trying to obtain a pack from here and a pack from there for one these items. Will it take a testimonial from an ill member of public for him to believe us??? We are avoiding harm to the public and that is why he has no evidence. He should ask an elderly patient who gets his medication changed for a few weeks and then get changed back for a few weeks and then change again--- ie isosorbide nitrate patients.
May be he or one of his team should spend a day in a busy pharmacy to understand the situation.

Andrew Martin, Primary care pharmacist

The trouble is, pharmacists are doing their utmost to try and avoid patients coming to harm so he thinks there isn't a problem...

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