‘Providing more leeway to pharmacists’ an obvious solution to medicines shortages, says pharmacy minister

In an exclusive interview withThe Pharmaceutical Journal, Andrea Leadsom acknowledged that medicines shortages were causing “friction in the system”.
Photo of Andrea Leadsom MP

Pharmacy minister Andrea Leadsom is looking at the “pros and cons” of allowing pharmacists to provide alternative medications, she has told The Pharmaceutical Journal.

In an exclusive interview, Leadsom said that medicines shortages were creating “friction in the system” and that she was looking into how to improve patient access “if not to the medicine that there’s a shortage of, then to a very similar alternative”.

Providing “more leeway to pharmacists” to “make more decisions for themselves” is one of the “obvious potential solutions” to medicines shortages, Leadsom said, but added that there was a risk of causing “shortages elsewhere”.

“You could end up in a position where other health professionals may not know exactly what has been prescribed and so there are risks associated with it,” she said.

“And so, we need to understand the pros and cons before going down that path.”  

She added: “You’d need to be very sure that you won’t just create another problem like the aliens game where you bang one on the head and another problem pops up somewhere else.

“You need to make sure that you’re not actually worsening the overall position”.

Asked what action she was taking to deal with medicines shortages, Leadsom said that she was holding “very regular meetings” with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) specialist medicines shortages team.

“As a minister, I have some priority areas, of which access to primary care is pretty much up there as one of my top priorities.

“Everything that creates friction that potentially worsens patient access, I’m looking at all the time on an ongoing basis,” she said.

Leadsom has previously said that allowing pharmacists to alter prescriptions could “exacerbate” medicines shortages.

In response to a parliamentary question on allowing pharmacists to prescribe alternative medications, Leadsom said on 29 January 2024: “Our assessment is that allowing pharmacists to take local action to alter prescriptions and supply an alternative, without the full oversight of supply issues that the [DHSC] has, could have the effect of creating a knock-on shortage of the alternative and could thereby have the potential to exacerbate rather than mitigate supply problems.”

The number of times manufacturers alerted the government to potential medicine supply problems increased by 67% between 2021 and 2023, according to DHSC data provided in response to a request from The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2024, Vol 312, No 7984;312(7984)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.307506

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