Community pharmacies spending twice as much time managing medicines shortages as last year

Pharmacy staff are spending an average of 11 hours per week on medicines procurement in 2023, double the 5.3 hours they reported in the previous year, a survey has revealed.
pharmacist getting medicines from drawer for prescription

The 2023 ‘Pharmacy Pressures Survey‘ has found the majority (93%) of pharmacy owners in England say their staff are spending much longer on medicines procurement, and that patient health is being put at risk by supply shortages.

The survey, which received responses from more than 900 pharmacy owners and 2,000 pharmacy team members in England, found that pharmacy staff spent an average of 11 hours per week on medicines procurement, up from 5.3 hours in the 2022 survey.

Results of the survey, published by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) on 13 April 2023, found that 92% of pharmacy teams were experiencing daily supply issues in 2023: up from 67% in the 2022 survey. Some 84% of pharmacy teams said they had experienced aggression from patients owing to these medicine supply issues.

Almost all respondents (97%) said they had seen significant increases in wholesaler and medicine supply issues, with 71% saying this was leading to delays in prescriptions being issued. Some 87% of pharmacy team members said that patient health is being put at risk owing to medicines supply issues.

Community pharmacies have repeatedly flagged medicines supply issues in recent months. In December 2022, the government agreed to 198 product price concessions — the highest ever reported in the UK. And data from the Office for National Statistics showed that, last year, the proportion of people struggling to buy the medicines they needed had doubled since the previous year.

As well as highlighting the extent of medicines supply issues, the survey found that 96% of pharmacy owners were facing significantly higher costs in 2023, up from 80% in the 2022 survey. 78% of pharmacy owners said they were extremely concerned about their business finances, and almost half (48%) said their pharmacies were operating understaffed owing to insufficient funding.

More than three-quarters (78%) of pharmacy staff said that their work was having a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing, with 31% of these saying they were barely coping. Just 7% of respondents said their work had a positive impact on their mental health.

On 14 March 2023, the PSNC said that community pharmacies in England should be able to permanently reduce their core opening hours by 30% to help contractors manage “unrelenting financial and operational challenges”.

Janet Morrison, chief executive of the PSNC, said the survey “paints a devastating picture of staff under unbearable pressures, and businesses struggling to cope. Whilst we strongly suspected to uncover a stark situation, the results are still distressing”.

She added that the PSNC would be using the results in discussions ahead of the next community pharmacy contractual framework negotiations and in its discussions with parliamentarians.

“Funding is needed, without delay, to maintain patient access to the medicines and pharmacy services that they need,” Morrison said.

“PSNC has been pressing for a fully-funded national ‘Pharmacy First’ service to be included in the upcoming ‘Primary Care Recovery Plan’ as we strongly believe this is the best chance for getting significant additional funds into community pharmacies.”

Commenting on the survey results, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We know how frustrating medicine supply issues can be and have well-established processes in place to manage or mitigate them when they occur.

“Community pharmacies play a vital role in supporting the NHS. We back them with £2.6bn a year and are also rapidly increasing the numbers of GP appointments available.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2023, Vol 310, No 7972;310(7972)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.181586

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