More than 90% of pharmacies say medicines shortages have got worse over the past year

Results of a survey carried out by Community Pharmacy England show that 99% of pharmacies were affected by medicines supply problems at least weekly, with 94% of pharmacy owners saying their teams were spending more time sourcing medicines in 2024 compared to 2023.
pharmacist holding digital tablet in front of medicines shelves

The vast majority of community pharmacy owners have said that medicines shortages have got worse over the past year, a survey by Community Pharmacy England (CPE) has revealed.

The survey of more than 2,000 community staff members and the owners of more than 6,000 pharmacy premises, results of which were published on 9 May 2024, also revealed that medicines supply problems were affecting 99% of community pharmacies at least weekly, with 72% experiencing multiple shortages each day.

CPE’s ‘Pharmacy pressures survey: medicines supply report‘ also reported that 94% of pharmacy owners said their teams now spent more time sourcing medicines compared with the same point in 2023, while 84% said they were spending longer than ever before sourcing medicines.

The survey also revealed that 79% of pharmacy staff said that patient health was being put at risk owing to medicine supply issues, with 84% of team members experiencing aggression from patients as a result.

The report’s authors concluded that medicines across a range of clinical and therapeutic areas were being affected by supply disruptions at different times, with issues in 2024 affecting “in particular medicines used for the treatment of diabetes, ADHD, and epilepsy”, while there were “availability issues with HRT, adrenalines and antibiotics” in 2023.

Fin McCaul, managing director of Prestwich Pharmacy in Manchester, told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “This is the longest period of continuous disruption that I’ve ever experienced and it’s a constant issue. In the past, shortages were confined to one molecule but now they change from product to product to product in every disease area across the board, from cardiology and diabetes, to respiratory, pain, ADHD, mental health medicines.”

Anil Sharma, pharmacist and director of Medicines4U in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “Sometimes up to 10% of things we place on order are coming up as out of stock and it’s costing us one to two hours a day of extra staffing time to resolve, even though these are really common drugs.

“We will try to order the drug two or three times but if we can’t get it by the third day we will ask the patient’s surgery for an alternative, but sometimes there is no clinically suitable alternative product, and this can end up being a matter of life or death for many patients.”

Describing the medicine supply challenges being faced by community pharmacies and their patients as “beyond critical”, Janet Morrison, chief executive of CPE, said the survey results “make distressing reading, and they should be ringing alarm bells for anybody interested in protecting the health and wellbeing of local communities and the public”.

“We’ve been warning for some time that these issues must be resolved, and this evidence provides yet another stark warning which must not be ignored,” she added.

In March 2024, The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that manufacturers reported medicines shortages to the Department of Health and Social Care an average of 137 times per month in 2023, compared with 82 times per month in 2021.

Patient mouthpiece Healthwatch published research on medicines shortages in April 2024, which showed that 24% of patients had experienced their pharmacy not having stock of their medicines in the past year.

Responding to the results of CPE’s survey, William Pett, head of policy and research at Healthwatch England, said: “Healthwatch England hears about how shortages can lead to rationing and desperate instances of ‘pharmacy bingo’, where patients must travel from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for stock.

“We are calling for a review of the medicine supply chain to ensure safety and resilience, and for pharmacy teams to be given flexibility, where it is safe to do so, to make changes to medicines they dispense in collaboration with patients.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “There are around 14,000 licensed medicines and the overwhelming majority are in good supply. Supply issues can arise for a wide range of reasons and are not specific to the UK.

“Our priority is to mitigate risks posed by those issues and to help ensure that patients continue to get the treatments they need. Thankfully, most issues can be managed with minimal impact to patients.

“We recognise the vital role pharmacies play in our healthcare system and that’s why they are backed by £2.6bn a year in government funding.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2024, Vol 312, No 7985;312(7985)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.313313

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