Medicine shortages took an extra hour per week of pharmacist time in 2019, survey finds

Pharmacists across the EU are spending an average of 6.6 hours per week dealing with medicines shortages.

Helga Mangion, policy manager for the NPA

Pharmacists across the EU spent an extra hour each week dealing with medicines shortages in 2019, following an increase in the number of medicines shortages compared with 2018, a survey has found.

The Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU) carried out the survey of community pharmacy bodies from 24 countries between 4 November 2019 and 16 December 2019. It found that respondents were spending an average of 6.6 hours per week on handling medicines shortages — an increase from the average of 5.6 hours per week in 2018.

Out of 24 responding countries, 21 (87%) said the number of shortages in 2019 had increased on the previous year, with 16 (67%) stating that more than 200 medicines were listed as being in short supply in their country at the time of the survey. The survey took responses from one national pharmacy representative body in each country.

As a result of spending more time dealing with shortages, 82% of countries said their community pharmacies had incurred a financial loss.

The survey results come after an investigation by The Pharmaceutical Journal
of confidential government documents revealed that 209 medical products were reported as having supply issues in 2019 in England — with the most occurring in December 2019.

The PGEU survey added that all 24 countries indicated that medicine shortages were causing distress and inconvenience to patients, with 42% saying they were resulting in “suboptimal treatment”.

Helga Mangion, policy manager at the National Pharmacy Association, said the survey provided “further evidence of a widespread problem in this country and across Europe”.

“Because of heroic efforts by pharmacists, patients usually get their medicines when and where they need them, but longstanding faults in the medicines supply chain too often leave patients waiting,” she said, calling for “urgent action to reduce the risk of harm and to allow pharmacists to spend more time with patients instead of hunting for stock”.

In July 2019, legislation came into force allowing pharmacists to dispense against a government-issued ‘serious shortage protocol’ (SSP) instead of a prescription, without going back to the prescriber first, as a measure to combat medicines shortages.

The first protocol was issued in October 2019 in response to shortages of fluoxetine and was later withdrawn in December 2019 after stocks normalised.

Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said: “Shortages of generic medicines are a long-acknowledged problem and PSNC is concerned about the additional time that community pharmacy teams are spending to ensure patients have the medicines they need. This report goes to show that the UK isn’t alone in experiencing these issues.

“Shortages can occur due to a range of unforeseen events but, during 2019, powers enabling the government to obtain more information from manufacturers and suppliers, as well as preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit, greatly improved communication channels across the UK supply chain. This improved information flow, along with measures such as the SSPs, should help mitigate shortages when they occur.”

Duarte Santos, president of the PGEU, said the survey highlighted the “daily and burdensome impact on patients and pharmacy practice across Europe” of shortages.

“We strongly recommend policymakers and stakeholders to take note of these striking trends and act upon them accordingly,” he added.

“The situation for patients and healthcare providers across Europe is no longer bearable and acceptable.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Medicine shortages took an extra hour per week of pharmacist time in 2019, survey finds;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207631

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