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'Medicines shortages are costing pharmacies. Here's the solution'

"The constant phone calls are taking up to an hour a day of staff time"

Community pharmacies are running out of patience with costly medicines shortages and the government needs to take action, says The Contractor

Let’s talk about medicines shortages. Something which only community pharmacists seem to know about, along with their disgruntled patients. GPs think we are making it up. The government thinks they will only happen when Brexit (I’m sorry to have to write that word) hits. We know the problem is real. Now.

So what’s going on and why? Why are basic medicines disappearing for weeks and then coming back with hiked costs? It’s real fun with the wholesalers.

One wholesaler, All About OOS, says a product has been “discontinued”. Then it transpires it is, in fact, only available from the Disunion wholesaler. But we can’t buy from Disunion, as our spend is low and we can’t fork out nearly £400 extra just to get an item that is on a par with gold dust. So the patient toddles off to Wellies, the big high street pharmacy which owns Disunion. Someone’s gaining, and it isn’t the local indie who has All About OOS as their main supplier.

Every time we send an order online, I hear my dispensers sigh. Let’s try the other wholesaler, I suggest, Black and White. They do have disappearing items in stock sometimes, but their prices are a little amusing – and not in a good way. Laughable.

Why aren’t our representatives looking into this properly? Surely the same active pharmaceutical ingredients can’t be disappearing all at the same time? If so, give us a list of them.

We all have a feeling about what’s going on, but no one is going to tell us the truth. It’ll upset a lot of big people who are rubbing their hands in glee while the pharmacists, and especially the patients, suffer.

The constant phone calls to the GPs, the wholesalers and the manufacturers are taking up to an hour a day of staff time. Who is going to pay for this? Oh yes, The Contractor.

Someone needs to do something quickly, before we find pharmacists and their hardworking dispensers out of stock of their own patience.

Perhaps the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) needs to step in. It’s definitely not a simple matter. The wholesalers have their own version of the Falsified Medicines Directive, so could the MHRA check their medicines data?

It’s especially worrying when manufacturers say there’s no problem with stock, but the suppliers tell a different story. The prochlorperazine scandal in May suggests there must be more ‘internal issues’ to look into.

Each product that is out of stock needs to be investigated from the top. The manufacturers should confirm what the actual cause of the shortage is: A problem with the manufacturing plant? Medicines licensing? Raw ingredients?

I don’t think shortages will get sorted out soon, as pharmacists are paying for them. However, the Department of Health and Social Care is also forking out for high prices. So perhaps the government should invest in the MHRA so it can investigate properly, to ultimately save their funds.

The Contractor is an independent pharmacy owner in England


Sher Khan, Locum pharmacist


Corporate companies are just as guilty of fraudung the tax funded NHS as much as someone ticking an exemption when the have to pay! 



Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

why would snyone do anything? the big multiples have realised that Pharmacy profits are being scrutinised by DoH and since they are vertically integrated, have simply moved the profits elsewhere, while im sure, not making any agreements with manufacturers to split any extra profit gained by rationing products with sole trader status, as that would be naughty.

the vast majority of contracts are owned by the very large multiples and why would they rock the boat for your benefit, after all, its all about profit for them, not patients, and why should they worry if their own Pharmacy teams are affected, they are being paid, arent they?

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Absolutely right Kevin.

Not just independent pharmacies, it is also the NHS and tax payers being ripped off by the price manipulation of drugs both branded and generic.

It seems obvious that the vertically integrated multiples are making £ millions by market manipulation of these drugs. Additionally, by retaining these excess profits within their pan European wholesale distribution chains, it also allows the profits to be easily moved between jurisdictions to reduce their tax liabilities.

The Times (03/06/2016) led with an article by Billy Kenber: “Extortionate prices add £260m to NHS drug bill… the equivalent of funding an extra 7,000 junior doctors a year”. There have been further articles (7/12/2017) also by Mr.Kenber: “Patients hit by shortage of drugs as prices soar…”

Engaging investigative journalists such as Mr Kenber may be helpful. I am sure he (and other journalists) would welcome facts from Pharmacists for further articles exposing this malpractice.

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

Start the ball rolling Clive - get in touch with the journalist. 

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