Mandatory ‘eight-week buffer stock’ requirement not met by medicine suppliers, reveals audit

Zahir Rashid, senior medicines assurance pharmacist at NHS England's Commercial Medicines Unit, said there was a “clear correlation” between what was reported as “out of stock” and when buffer stocks were not held.
Someone pulling pack of medicines from pharmacy shelf

No medicine supplier participating in a voluntary government audit met a 2021 requirement to stock eight week’s worth of medicines, which had been implemented to mitigate ongoing supply issues, according to NHS England’s Commercial Medicines Unit (CMU).

Speaking at the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists’ Procurement and Distribution Interest Group Autumn Symposium, held in Birmingham on 2 November 2023, Zahir Rashid, senior medicines assurance pharmacist at the CMU, said the results of the audit found that there was a “clear correlation” between medicines that were reported as “out of stock” and when buffer stocks were not held.

Rashid said: “In May 2021, the CMU mandated the holding of eight-week buffer stock in the UK [for medicine suppliers].”

“For example, if the supplier sells 100 packs a week, or is expected to sell 100 packs a week from the basement level, we expected them to hold 800 packs on UK soil in addition to what they would sell,” he told delegates.

The mandatory buffer stock requirement was introduced in response to the medicine shortages being experienced in England. Then, in February 2023, a voluntary audit was launched to monitor the level of buffer stocks and assess compliance among suppliers, with results recorded in September 2023.

“[Hospital] trusts were telling us there wasn’t stock available. We’ll investigate, and it turns out there was no stock or buffer stock held,” he said.

According to Rashid’s presentation, the audit also revealed that an average of 10% of medicines had no buffer stocks available and, among medicines suppliers, the absence of sufficient buffer stocks varied between 3% and 29%, depending on the medicines they supplied.

“One supplier, approximately 30% of its portfolio didn’t have any buffer stock available — this is quite concerning,” he said.

“There are some good suppliers, but even still, there wasn’t 100% compliance. What we know is that 40% of all the supply issues that receivers have come from the top ten worst performance suppliers.

“This changes from time to time but there are some suppliers that just don’t hold stock we need them to hold, and this is evident.”

Commenting on the figures, a spokesperson for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “These medicines are for secondary care and most are generic medicines.

“The CMU will monitor adherence to the eight-week buffer stock for tenders and penalties can be incurred for marketing authorisation holders that do not meet the requirements.”

“We are confident that [our] members have greater than eight week’s stock on the majority of their [stock-keeping units], irrespective of them being on a tender/framework,” they added.

A spokesperson for the British Generic Manufacturers Association said: “This is one component of a large and complex medicines supply system. We are aware that CMU is seeking to improve compliance and as an association are supportive of this.

“Overall, though we are seeing more supply issues in recent months, the UK secondary care supply chain is very robust as a result of the plurality of manufacturers. It remains rare that a patient is impacted by a supply issue.“

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, November 2023, Vol 311, No 7979;311(7979)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.200018

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