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NPA to tackle short-dated medicines supply

The association is to use its wholesaler standards to address the reported problem of pharmacists receiving stock at the end of its shelf-life

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has vowed to use its standards for wholesalers to address issues with pharmacists receiving medicines reaching the end of their shelf-life.

Concerns from pharmacists around the supply of short-dated stock – drugs that could go out of date within the duration of treatment – had emerged from the NPA's consultation on its standards of service for wholesalers. They would "certainly be reflected" in the finished document, it told C+D yesterday (June 24).

Other pharmacy groups and contractors told C+D they had experienced problems with short-dated stock and called for stricter regulations on the shelf-life of medicines.

Stock should have a minimum shelf-life of one year or there should be an option to return it, pharmacists have said

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Pharmacy Voice said it had received reports of pharmacists struggling with stock that was close to becoming out of date - in particular contraceptives - and called for these drugs to be supplied on a monthly basis.

Avicenna commercial director Raj Haria said it was common practice for some wholesalers to buy short-dated stock from manufacturers.

The independent support group had an agreement with its wholesalers to flag up any short-dated stock when it was ordered and pharmacists should not be afraid to reject stock that did not meet their requirements, Mr Haria told C+D.

Martin Sawer, executive director of the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW), told C+D that it was "very rare" for a pharmacist to receive short-dated stock. The BAPW had an agreement with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) that products should have a minimum shelf-life of six months, he stressed.

North East London LPC secretary Hemant Patel said wholesalers should give written assurance that drugs had a shelf-life of at least a year and pharmacists should be "vigilant" when receiving stock.

Surrey pharmacist Vijay Mathani agreed that all stock should have a minimum shelf-life of a year "if not more". Mr Mathani said he had received products with a "short expiry date", including items on the concessionary price list.

One pharmacist, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had been forced to accept contraceptives with a three-month shelf-life from a wholesaler."If [a wholesaler] sends any product with an expiry date of less than a year then the pharmacy should have the option to return it," he told C+D.

However, Brian Austen, director of pharmaceutical consultancy service EPOC Health Limited, told C+D that drugs with a longer shelf-life had a "greater risk" of their formulation becoming unstable due to environmental conditions.

"There is a good argument for quick turnover and as short a shelf-life as possible without endangering patients or wasting drugs," he said.

The NPA's consultation to develop quality standards for wholesalers and "empower" independent pharmacies closed on June 8. The NPA planned to reveal more details about the results of the consultation "in the next few weeks", it told C+D.

How often do you receive short-dated stock from your wholesalers?
We want to hear your views, but please express them in the spirit of a constructive, professional debate. For more information about what this means, please click here to see our community principles and information

Philip Ward,

I worked closely with a number of wholesalers to address this issue. A well-managed wholesaler will have SOPs in place to continually review product shelf life at 1) Point of delivery 2) Storage devices at regular intervals to ensure correct rotation and identification of stock approaching a defined end-of-date. One of the significant areas also addressed was the return of previously supplied product without authorisation by the wholesaler.

Farmer Cyst, Community pharmacist

Who is this a problem for exactly? Not community Pharmacists who make a choice to buy discounted, short dated stock. All of the outrage will be coming from Alliance, AAH et al.

Brian Austen, Senior Management

If short-line wholesalers, who have to meet stringent MHRA standards to operate were disadvantaged by not being able to sell and distribute stock under a year old it would make them less competitive, there would be less competition for the full-line wholesalers and pharmacies not linked to wholesalers might end up losing some of the margin due to reduced discounts, free stock, etc. I am sure Alliance Boots, AAH and Phoenix would be quite happy for this to happen.

Brian Austen, Senior Management

My full comments on this matter:

(1) There is a good argument for quick turnover and as short a shelf life as possible without endangering patients or wasting drugs. This is because the longer a drug is on the shelf the greater the risk to its stability. Pharmacists should ensure that all drugs are stored correctly and are regularly checked for expiry as a stock control measure and of course before a drug is dispensed. I have seen pharmacies without adequate temperature controls. Stock on shelves during hot summer months may be de-stabilised by temperatures being too high.

(2) Short-line wholesalers are important to pharmaceutical wholesaling and distribution. They create a competitive, cost effective market. If short-line wholesalers no longer existed, I have no doubt there would be increased shortages of drugs and the market would be less cost-effective.

(3) I would be interested in knowing who is making these recommendations of a minimum year shelf life because I worry that there might be some conflict of interest as may have been the case with certain drug supply policies in the past, which undoubtedly contributed to the current stock shortages.

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