Medicines shortages experienced by 95% of hospital pharmacists across Europe, survey finds

Hospital pharmacists across 58 countries reported that medicines shortages had delayed or cancelled care.
hospital pharmacist selecting medicine from shelf

A survey of hospital pharmacists across Europe has found that 95% are experiencing medicines shortages — the same percentage as in 2019.

The European Association of Hospital Pharmacists (EAHP)’s ‘Shortage survey’ report for 2023, published on 17 October 2023, also found that 59% of pharmacists said medicines shortages had delayed patient care, 43% said it had resulted in suboptimal treatment, and 35% said shortages had led to cancellation of care.

The 2023 ‘Shortage survey’ received 1,497 responses from hospital pharmacists in 58 countries, including 90 responses from hospital pharmacists in the UK. As in the EAHP’s previous survey, carried out in 2019, 95% of survey hospital pharmacists reported that medicine shortages are a major problem in their hospital.

In the 2023 survey, more than two-thirds of hospital pharmacists (76%) said antimicrobial agents were the area of medicine most commonly in short supply in their hospitals, with analgesics (43%) in second place and anaesthetic agents (37%) ranked third. In 2019, oncology medicines — which ranked fourth in the 2023 survey — had been in second place and anaesthetic agents in third.

Pharmacists were also asked for their views on the possible causes of medicine shortages. The most common reasons given were a global shortage of an active pharmaceutical ingredient (77%); manufacturing problems (67%); and supply chain problems (50%).

As a result, 76% of hospital pharmacists said they had implemented clinical changes to cope with the shortages.

Responding to the findings of the survey, András Süle, president of the EAHP, said: “Problems caused by medicine shortages remain serious, threaten patient care in hospitals and require urgent action”.

Commenting on the results, Nathan Burley, president of the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, said: “Medicines shortages are now a daily fact of life in the UK and across Europe, as the survey shows. Shortages bring immense frustration for patients and a substantial increase to clinician workload.

“We must ask why pharmaceutical companies are still utilising ‘just in time’ supply chains for life-saving medicines and why there is so much manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredient outside European borders. Medicines regulatory agencies worldwide should also be applying great scrutiny to stability of supply as part of the licensing process.”

In June 2023, results of The Pharmaceutical Journal‘s salary and job satisfaction survey revealed 57% of pharmacists said medicines shortages had put patients at risk in the previous six months — a slight increase on the proportion of pharmacists (54%) who answered ‘yes’ to the same question as part of the 2022 survey.

Alongside the publication of its survey, the EAHP said it was urging the European Union to consider introducing legislation to address medicines shortages.

The legislation should include incentivising timely sharing of information on shortages by manufacturers; mandating member states to set up national task force teams, comprising national agencies, industry and frontline healthcare professionals, including hospital pharmacists, to discuss and adopt proactive measures for combatting shortages; and exploring the feasibility of raw material production in Europe for certain products, especially for products with a high dependency on outside sources, the EAHP said.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, October 2023, Vol 311, No 7978;311(7978)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.198800

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