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Wholesaler body proposes shortages information scheme to rebuild trust

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Martin Sawer: Wholesalers don't always know why a medicine is unavailable

Collating information on medicine shortages from manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies would rebuild trust across the supply chain, the wholesaler body has said.

Community pharmacies in particular would benefit from a tailored service that shows which medicines are experiencing supply disruptions, why, and when they are going to be available, Martin Sawer, head of the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) said last week (February 18).

The service would probably need a “third party of mutual engagement” such as the Department of Health and Social Care (DH), to oversee the sharing of supply data between pharmacies, wholesalers and manufacturers, Mr Sawer told C+D after his presentation at the Sigma conference in Muscat, Oman.

“An information service [for] the supply chain – up to manufacturers and back down, particularly to community pharmacies – would be quite an achievement,” Mr Sawer said.

Rebuilding trust

He admitted that sharing some data “is a challenge” because of commercial sensitivities, and any information shared “has to be handled properly”.

However, exchanging information would help those in the supply chain understand each other better, and would improve trust between pharmacies, wholesalers and manufacturers, Mr Sawer said.

“In some specific incidences, an accusation that's been levelled [is that] wholesalers don't always communicate why a product isn't there and when it's going to be there next. Sometimes we don't actually know, that's the trouble,” he told C+D.

“We need to tell a pharmacy that we don't know – it's just exchanging basic information. If that happened, there would be better trust established.”

“Getting hold of medicines is a huge challenge”

Mr Sawer would like to start developing the service later this year, he said. “I've mentioned it to a few pharmacy leaders and they've been supportive.

“The information supply is one thing – once that's sorted, we need to move to how we sort out [shortages of] individual medicines,” he continued.

“Getting hold of medicines is a huge challenge, but if the information exchange allows an understanding of the level of demand and concern, then maybe medicines can be moved around if they're in the wrong place, and supply can be added to more quickly.

“It will be on a case-by-case basis, medicine-by-medicine, because there's different reasons for shortages,” Mr Sawer explained.

Watch Mr Sawer explain the proposals in more detail.

2 Comments
Question: 
Do you agree that there needs to be greater transparency across the supply chain?

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

This would be much more credible if The Pharma industry didnt have a long, well established, record of withholding stock to maintain or boost prices. The chances of honesty are slim and the chances of them actually providing stock on demand are even slimmer.

the real reason for this is simply smoke and mirrors - "how can we look like we are doing something so we seem as though we care about patients, I know lets release a report"

Graham Turner, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Collating information about shortages won't help the patients who need the drugs! Some patients, quite rightly, can get very distressed to find out that their medication is unavailable.

Unfortunately, it is now left to the pharmacist, who does not have any time to spare, to talk this through with the patient.

For most patients, their single point of contact is the pharmacist, and yet community pharmacists are already reeling from workplace pressure and stress.

I find it incomprehensible that companies are sending delegates to a conference in the exotic location like Muscat, Oman, yet they cannot even resolve medicines supply issues in the UK which would undoubtedly cost them less to resolve than sending people half-way around the world on some kind of corporate jolly!

Once again, it's one rule for them, and one rule for us.

Just in case you weren't aware, Sigma charged £3970 for a couple to attend the conference, so there IS money in the industry, it's just that pharmacists and patients will never see it.

I'm pretty sure that a conference in Milton Keynes could have cost a tenth of this figure.

EDIT: I see that someone gave a thumbs down to this comment, but so would I if I was getting paid to travel the world in the name of pharmaceutical "conferences". Oman, Jamaica, Malta, Indonesia, if only patients in the UK knew about this massive waste of money, whilst being unable to get hold of the drugs that they need.

With money apparently being in such short supply in the UK pharmacy industry, it is quite frankly insulting that we are being presented with with these videos from Muscat of people enjoying theirselves at our expense.

The big pharmaceutical companies are profiting at the expense of patients, and deliberately creating drug shortages to ramp up prices, whilst paying for their delegates to travel the world in luxury. If that sounds like normal behaviour to you, then please leave a thumbs down.

Edit: seems that at least 4 people think that's it ok to spend nothing on patients and to spend thousands on a tropical jolly for employees, whilst claiming that you can source medicines so that you can ramp the price up .

*This comment has been edited for breaching C+D's community principles*

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